Benton Institute offers concise info on the Affordable Connectivity Program

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has done a nice job detailing the Affordable Connectivity Program from angle of provider and recipient, or at least to help a recipient. I remember working a Reference Desk and working with patrons to try to figure out how to sign up for various government programs; it’s not as easy as it looks and that’s while I was sitting in the warm library getting paid. It’s nice to have something that outlines the details. 

Here’s the high level info but the value in the document is the level of detail and which detail depends on what you need…

Broadband providers will receive up to $30/month (or up to $75/month if the household is on Tribal Land[1] or in a “high-cost” area) for providing service to low-income households. Broadband providers pass on those savings to low-income subscribers. If the provider offers and the consumer picks a plan that regularly costs $30/month or less, the consumer will receive that service for free until Affordable Connectivity Program funding ends. (With more than $14 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program allocated in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and approximately half of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program funding rolled into the new program, the benefit should be available for years to come.) The service can be standalone broadband or a bundle of services including broadband, telephone, texting, and the rental fee on the equipment that makes the service possible (like a modem).

The government will also give a broadband provider up to $100 if a household purchases one of the provider’s connected devices (laptop, desktop, or tablet computer). The consumer can be asked to pay no more than $50 and no less than $10 for the device. A household can only buy one of these discounted devices and there is no discount on smartphones. A connected device must be Wi-Fi enabled and support video conferencing. A device cannot be limited to use with any specific service provider and a provider may not require consumers to obtain an program-supported device in order to enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program.

As in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, the FCC sets no minimum service standards for internet service offerings that are eligible for Affordable Connectivity Program support. The FCC says only that the service must include a broadband connection that permits households to rely on these connections for the purposes essential to telework, remote learning, and telehealth.

New rules mean broadband providers can’t upsell customers using government subsidies

Ars Technica reports

Less than a year after Verizon and other ISPs forced users to switch plans in order to get government-funded discounts, a new federal program will prevent such upselling by requiring ISPs to let customers obtain subsidies on any Internet plan.

With last year’s $50-per-month Emergency Broadband Benefit that was created by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission let ISPs participate in the program as long as they offered the discount on at least one service plan. The FCC said it did so to encourage participation by providers, but some major ISPs drastically limited the subsidy-eligible plans—forcing users to switch to plans that could be more expensive in order to get a temporary discount.

Congress subsequently created a replacement program that will offer $30 monthly subsidies to people with low incomes. The program also specified that ISPs “shall allow an eligible household to apply the affordable connectivity benefit to any Internet service offering of the participating provider at the same terms available to households that are not eligible households.” The FCC still has to make rules for implementing the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), but that requirement prevented the FCC from using the same one-plan rule that helped ISPs use the program as an upselling opportunity.

Dakota County libraries check out Chromebooks and Hotspots

The following is helpful if you’re in Dakota County or if you are in a different county and want a model to replicate to get Chromebooks and hotspots into the hands of their residents. The Dakota County newsletter reports

Dakota County Library is making is easier for you to do schoolwork, look for a job and connect with family and friends online.

Anyone with a Dakota County Library card can check out a Chromebook and a Wi-Fi hotspot from an of the none county library locations. Check out either a kit that includes a Chromebook and a Wi-Fi hotspot or just a hotspot for up to six weeks. Just like other library materials, there’s no charge ro check out and borrow devices.

Learn more.

FCC Draft of Broadband Subsidy Rules – doesn’t include subsidies for smart phones

Next TV reports…

As advertised, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has released a draft of an order and further notice of proposed rulemaking (FNPR) on rules to govern the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) broadband subsidies, including proposing to allow Emergency Broadband Benefit providers to automatically qualify to provide ACP-authorized service.

But despite the urging of the wireless industry, the FCC is not expanding the definition of covered devices to include smart phones.

The idea is to give the public and stakeholders time to comment on the item, though they will have to read fast since it is over 150 pages long.

The ACP program provides up to $30 per month toward broadband service (up to $75 for tribal communities) and up to $100 toward a broadband access device, excluding smart phones.

The public will have only until January 11 to comment given a congressional deadline that the FCC have promulgated the rules by January 14, which the commission still needs to vote on.

The FCC report and order is proposing to make the ACP technology neutral, which means among other things, that eligible entities will include both cable and wireless internet service providers, but also municipal broadband and co-ops.

But it is not proposing requiring ISPs to turn over service plan information during the ACP election process, saying it was convinced by commenters, which included ACAC, NCTA, INCOMPAS and many others, that “such an administrative burden could discourage provider participation.” The burden being “filing information on all service plans for a particular provider,” which “could result in thousands of permutations of price, service characteristics, and geographic information that would delay election notice filing and processing.”

I am an advocate for having an actual computer to get work/homework done but I also recognize that not everyone can afford a computer and not everyone lives a life that accommodates the time and space to sit down with a computer and therefore for some folks the smartphone is essential, more practical and deserving of support.

OPPORTUNITY: FCC Commits Over $361M in Additional Emergency Connectivity Funding

The FCC announces

The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it is committing $361,037,156.16 in its latest wave of Emergency Connectivity Fund program support.  This round of commitments will support 802 schools, 49 libraries and 8 consortia, which are approved to receive nearly 654,000 connected devices and over 313,000 broadband connections.  Today’s seventh funding wave brings total commitments to nearly $4.2 billion since the program was launched on June 29, 2021, supporting students, school staff, and library patrons in all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia.

“Today’s funding announcement will provide 700,000 more schoolchildren with the digital tools they need to connect with teachers and classmates,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel.  “The Emergency Connectivity Fund is the single largest effort to close the Homework Gap by bringing connectivity and devices to students and library patrons.  The need for this support is apparent in both rural and urban America and I’m pleased to note that with this funding we are supporting communities stretching from Aniak, Alaska to New York City.”

The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework and virtual learning, to ensure students across the country have the necessary support to keep up with their education.  Total commitments to date are supporting over 9,800 schools, 800 libraries, and 100 consortia for over 8.9 million connected devices and over 4.7 million broadband connections.  Today’s announcement includes nearly $155 million in commitments from Window 1 applications and over $206 million in commitments from Window 2 applications.

More details about which schools and libraries have received funding commitments can be found at https://www.fcc.gov/emergency-connectivity-fund.

Detailed information on the status of Emergency Connectivity Fund applications is available in the Open Data Portal, including applicant details, requested funds, individual product or service details, funding commitment, and funding disbursement information.  Additional information on the Emergency Connectivity Fund program is available at: https://www.emergencyconnectivityfund.org.  The program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, with oversight from and under rules unanimously adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.

FCC Releases Draft Program Rules for the Affordable Connectivity Program

From the FCC…

The Federal Communications Commission released draft rules associated with the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).  Created in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Infrastructure Act), this new longer-term program builds upon the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB). The program provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. It also continues to provide the same one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households that was available as part of the EBB program. 

In releasing the item for public review, Chairwoman Rosenworcel said: “… Given the importance of this program to consumers, I made public the draft for our newest broadband affordability program to invite feedback. We know that programs meant to help the most vulnerable consumers benefit greatly from public input. 

 The Commission is expected to vote on this item next week. 

You can learn more about the ACP by visiting: www.fcc.gov/ACP. 

You can also find ACP program outreach materials for the ACP in our partner toolkit. 

Paul Bunyan Communications shares info on the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program

Good info for folks in and out of Paul Bunyan coverage area…

Today, Paul Bunyan Communications announced it is working to help build awareness about the Affordable Connectivity Program, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program.  The new long-term benefit will help to lower the cost of broadband service for eligible households struggling to afford internet service.

The $14 billion Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to a $30 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for qualifying households on qualifying Tribal lands.  The benefit also provides up to a $100 per household discount toward a one-time purchase of a computer, laptop, or tablet if the household contributes more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase through a participating broadband provider.

A household is eligible if one member of the household meets at least one of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines;
  • Participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
  • Participates in one of several Tribal specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard) Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband provider’s existing low-income program.

Affordable Connectivity Program enrollment opened on December 31, 2021. Eligible households can enroll through a participating broadband provider or by (1) going to ACPBenefit.org to submit an online application or print a mail-in application and (2) contacting their preferred participating broadband provider and selecting a plan.  Additional information about the Emergency Broadband Benefit is available at www.fcc.gov/ACP, or by calling 877-384-2575 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET any day of the week.

When your grandma lives in a rural community and the power goes out

Some of you will know this story – or one very similar well – if you do, you should take a minute to tell your story to someone who can make a difference. Like your local representative, senator or county commissioner. This story is a wake-up or reminder for folks who don’t spend time in rural areas or worrying about loved ones in rural areas.

My friend’s grandma lives in rural Wisconsin. For folks outside of the Midwest – we’ve had had some weather this week: 50+ degrees on Wednesday (in MN in December!), 12 degrees the next morning with a couple of tornadoes in between. So grandma’s power is out. And so is her phone. I point out that if she has DSL that the phone needs electricity and won’t work. (We want to make sure it’s a tech issue not a billing issue.) The provider is a telephone company. So I figure it’s DSL. Nope, actually grandma doesn’t have internet access at all.

The power is back on, according to the electric company but my friend still can’t get through by phone. Only getting the busy signal. My friend will spend the day trying to get some tech out there or seeing if she can reach a neighbor or calling a high school friend to check on her grandma.

I suggested that maybe grandma should get a prepaid cell phone (burner phone) for Christmas. Well, that won’t work because there’s no cell coverage where she lives.

That’s a glimpse of communications – broadband, internet, phone, whatever – as lifeline. Something I forget from my home in St Paul. Something I hope we all remember when we’re spending down the federal dollars for infrastructure – let’s invest in these areas and invest in a way that doesn’t leave grandmas a generation behind the times in five to ten years and something that doesn’t leave grandmas out in the cold when the weather gets bad.

Hy-Vee is launching low-cost telehealth and online pharmacy services

KTTC Rochester reports…

Hy-Vee, Inc. is launching a new national subsidiary that will provide low-cost telehealth, online pharmacy services, and direct shipping of prescribed treatments to patients’ homes throughout the U.S.

RedBox Rx will make it easy for people to get treatment offering quick, easy and discreet access to a provider who can prescribe prescription medication that is then shipped for free directly to the patient.

Find services offered here: https://www.redboxrx.com/services

EVENT Dec 13: New Federal Investments in Digital Equity: What Skills Advocates Need to Know

It’s a quick but helpful webinar federal funding for digital equity…

New Federal Investments in Digital Equity: What Skills Advocates Need to Know

Monday, December 13, 2021

4:00-4:30 Eastern Time
Over the past 18 months, National Skills Coalition members have worked hard to educate policymakers on the need to invest in digital skills. Our Digital Equity @ Work campaign has highlighted the importance of holistic digital inclusion investments that help workers not only access the broadband and devices they need, but also to pursue high-quality upskilling and reskilling opportunities.

Now it’s time to celebrate an important victory: The infrastructure bill passed by Congress in November 2021 includes historic, first-of-its-kind funding for digital inclusion, and it’s in part thanks to the advocacy of our network! States will be receiving $2.75 billion in funding under the Digital Equity Act. In this quick 30-minute webinar, you’ll learn about the implications of this new legislation for your state, find out what more needs to be done to achieve digital equity for all workers, and get your top questions answered. You’ll also get a sneak peek at the next chapter of the federal digital equity conversation — coming at the February 2022 Skills Summit. Register now!

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Report

The folks who manage Universal Service and the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) programs just published a report on EBB, the fund established during the COVID pandemic to subsidize broadband access to make it more affordable to households that needed that help. In Minnesota, 76,301 households have signed up for EBB.

Here are some of the other stats…

To close the digital gap, we need a connectivity baseline, better outreach and continued funding

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society carefully maps out their reasoning for recommending that policymakers keep the following in mind when using the newfound influx of funds to help close the digital gap caused by affordability issues…

To ensure that the market for universal connectivity is well-functioning, policymakers should:

  • Establish a “connectivity baseline” for Lifeline: Having both wireline and wireless data is the norm for a majority of Americans and that is the goal on which policymakers should set their sights. Policymakers should also consider service speeds for plans offered in connection with the Affordable Connectivity Program. Low-income households should not have internet speeds that do not support applications necessary for working from home, distance education or telehealth.
  • Fund outreach and communications: Survey data shows that just 23% of lower-income Americans (as of July 2021) were aware of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, underscoring the need for outreach. The newly passed infrastructure bill allows the FCC to conduct such outreach and the Build Back Better spending bill would allocate $100 million for outreach efforts through the FCC.
  • Provide a reliable funding stream: The current contribution method for the Universal Service Fund is strained. By law, there must be specific, predictable and sufficient Federal and State mechanisms to preserve and advance universal service including Lifeline. The infrastructure bill requires that the FCC develop a plan to reform universal service, that does not diminish its goals while possibly asking Congress to expand them. Funding these goals must be part of this plan.

Also something they mention – we need to make it easy for folks to access the funds they need. I just got a booster shot, an hour ago, because I happened to be at the Mall of America walking with my dad and I noticed they had walk-up shots. This was after my mom spent 30 minutes trying to get me an appointment a national pharmacy; they asked one too many questions and she timed out.

I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Otherwise the deluge of information on commercial websites and dearth of info on government/community sites combined with everyone’s horror stories on social media clouds ability to see what we need – and getting a shot is easy compared to choosing a broadband solution. We can’t let the paperwork be the barrier.

OPPORTUNITY: $500M in Good Jobs Challenge grants could fund training and tech assistance

The US EDA explains…

EDA’s American Rescue Plan Good Jobs Challenge aims to get Americans back to work by building and strengthening systems and partnerships that bring together employers who have hiring needs with other key entities to train workers with in-demand skills that lead to good-paying jobs.

Through the Good Jobs Challenge, EDA is allocating $500 million to collaborative skills training systems and programs. EDA encourages efforts to reach historically underserved populations and areas, communities of color, women, and other groups facing labor market barriers such as persons with disabilities, disconnected youth, individuals in recovery, individuals with past criminal records, including justice impacted and reentry participants, serving trainees participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and veterans and military spouses.

A little more detail…

EDA will fund proposals within the following three phases, as applicable to regional needs:

  1. System Development Help establish and develop a regional workforce training system comprised of multiple sector partnerships

  2. Program Design Develop the skills training curriculum and materials, and secure technical expertise needed to train workers

  3. Program Implementation Implement non-construction projects needed to provide workforce training and connect workers with quality jobs, including wrap-around services

Application deadline is January 26, 2022

Four ways the Infrastructure Bill makes broadband more affordable

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society outlines the ways the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will make broadband more affordable. At a very high level, here’s the answer…

  1. The Emergency Broadband Benefit Becomes the (Permanent) Affordable Connectivity Program
    The subsidy goes from $50 to $30 but again. Permanent
  2. Consumer Broadband Labels
    I would love to see this look like the grocery store model – give me cost per Mbps – like comparative price per ounce of breakfast cereal
  3. Speed Report
    They mention “consider future speed needs” when coming up with thresholds
  4. Addressing Digital Redlining
    Will be interested to view this from rural lens

Videos on online school from kids who were OK with it and kids who weren’t

The National Urban League released 13 short videos about young people’s experiences with online schooling during the pandemic. This is a little bit off my usual post but I thought it was interesting. In the interviews kids who were OK with online school talk to kids who were not. At least one was not OK because he lacked access but for most the platform just didn’t work for them.

I think it’s important that we look at what works with technology and what doesn’t and unfortunately, I think we may have more opportunities to work on online schooling in the future. Changes in technology or teaching may help. Adequate access to technology would certainly help. We might new teaching models, new models for tele-mental health services as well as all of help with equity issues unrelated to technology.

I hope they do a follow up to see how the disconnected kids are doing in a few months. In my house we’ve gone from disconnected to nearly complete rebound since going in person in September – but we’ve got a lot of tools at our disposal. I hope many of the other kids who didn’t love online school will be able to turn it around too. It could lead to an interesting discussion on societal changes based the abrupt worldwide change in education.