20 Broadband companies poised to offer effectively free access

Yahoo Finance reports…

The Biden administration announced Monday that 20 leading internet service providers have agreed to offer basic low cost plans that will be free for millions of Americans after a refund.

The 20 companies, including AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA), and Verizon (VZ), cover more than 80% of the U.S. population. They will immediately provide at least one plan that costs no more than $30 a month and provides download speeds of at least 100 mbps.

The White House says that 40% of the U.S. population, about 48 million households, will be eligible to sign up through an existing program called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The program is aimed at lower income Americans and offers participants a discount of up to $30/month on their internet bill, meaning they’ll effectively get free service if they can get online with one of these participating companies.

AT&T CEO John Stankey said his company’s new plan “when combined with federal ACP benefits, provides up to 100 Mbps of free internet service.”

Helpful Instructions to Apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program

C|Net has a helpful article on how to apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program. I thought folks might be able to pass this on to folks who can share the news with likely candidates. It seems like often programs like these get underused because the folks who really need it aren’t online to get these good instructions. They outline the steps:

  • Find out if you qualify
  • See if you can skip the queue
  • Have your paperwork ready
  • Apply
  • Follow up with your provider

I won’t copy the whole article here but here’s the “apply” info for folks who read to fast (like me) and to give you a sample of the rest of the article…

You have three different ways to apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program. The first is to apply online. You can log in and create a new account at the ACP’s online application portal.

Your second option is to apply by mail. You will need to print out an application, complete it, and send your copies of the required documents to ACP Support Center, PO Box 7081, London, KY 40742.

Finally, your other option is to contact your ISP directly and ask if it participates in the ACP. If it does, it should be able to assist you and walk you through whatever steps are needed to complete the process.

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program helped low income households keep broadband but didn’t get as many new people online

USC Annenberg has released a study of the impact of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, the low income subsidies offered to offset broadband costs near the start of the pandemic. The timing is good, as the program shifts from a temporary solution to more permanent solution – Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The quick gist is that it looks like it helped a lot of people stay online, but it spur more people to get online, which is unfortunate…

The EBB program was created to mitigate the short-term impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable households, reducing the cost burden of broadband connectivity for recipients. As the program transitions into a longer-term subsidy, it is important to take stock of its impact and adjust course as needed. Overall, the findings of this study suggest there is significant room to improve program targeting and outreach efforts, as well as to facilitate enrollment procedures for key groups of potential beneficiaries.

Critically, the findings suggest that the primary impact of the EBB program was to alleviate the cost burden for households that were already connected pre-pandemic, with only modest impact in bringing new households online. Alleviating the cost burden of broadband for vulnerable households is an important policy goal, as evidence from other studies suggests that low-income households often cut on essentials expenses (such as food and clothing) to pay for Internet service. Nonetheless, for a program that offered a subsidy level over five times higher than Lifeline, uptake fell significantly below expectations. The evidence points in particular to weak demand for residential connectivity plans, despite the fact that the $50 EBB subsidy covered about 70% of the typical cost of residential broadband in the U.S.

A key task for the new ACP program is to significantly expand coverage, particularly in areas with low residential connectivity pre-pandemic. The findings in this study suggest that renewed outreach efforts are urgently needed in rural and less populated areas, among older adults, and in communities with a large share of foreign-born residents. This is consistent with findings from recent research showing that low levels of awareness about the EBB program, as well as lack of appropriate information about eligibility and the application process, depressed participation rates among key potential beneficiaries.11 Previous research also indicates that targeted outreach efforts are likely to be more effective if channeled through organizations with strong local community ties (such as schools and senior centers), and that these organizations can also play a key role by offering technical support for onboarding those with limited digital literacy.

Leveraging enrollment in other social safety net programs with high participation rates (such as SNAP, WIC and NSLP) is another key outreach strategy, albeit one that will require cross-agency collaboration and appropriate funding. Participating providers also have an important role to play in disseminating clear information about ACP program eligibility, contract terms and service pricing, a statutory mandate that the FCC should closely monitor and enforce. Minimizing enrollment procedures is also critical, as is flexibility in the documentation required to verify eligibility.

Finally, given the level of funding and the long-term duration of the ACP program, a more robust monitoring system must be put into place to evaluate the program’s cost-effectiveness on an ongoing basis. This will require more extensive data reporting from participating providers, including information about pricing, service speeds, access technology, data usage patterns, and beneficiary location at the census tract or block group level. 13 In addition, regular surveys of existing and potential ACP beneficiaries should be conducted to better understand barriers to participation and potential adjustments to key program parameters such as subsidy level, enrollment procedures, certification rules and device offerings.

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.