Photo: Pie chart -- connectivity, skills/support, devices

ACP Can Be a Catalyzing Ingredient in Closing the Digital Divide

Posted on April 13, 2023 by Rachel Ploss, TPF Fellow 2022/23
At the 2023 Net Inclusion conference, not only did we focus on our in-person relationships but also our digital connections. Our world is increasingly turning to a digital arena where people must be connected to the internet to thrive. The question is, “Do people in the community have a way to reach their goals in a digital world sustainably?”

Living in Florida, we know only some in our Suncoast region have internet access, and we also know that only some have a device to access the internet. Think of Digital Access for All like a three-legged stool. Affordable access and devices make up two legs of the stool, the third leg is digital literacy, but we must focus on one leg at a time to ensure our stool is strong and sturdy. When putting our stool together, our “Allen wrench” to connect the pieces is the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). ACP is a government benefit providing qualifying households with up to $30 per month off their internet bill. To those of us living above the poverty line, $30 might not seem like much, but to those who need this program, that $30 is clean laundry, medications, or more than the off-brand necessities at the grocery store. ACP can provide a window of hope to families who need the internet just as much as everyone else.

As foundations, we can use this program to help close the gap between people in our communities and quality internet access. There are two components to pay attention to when it comes to ACP: outreach and enrollment. These are like part A and part B under “affordable access” on our stool building instructions sheet. Outreach is not the time to be enrolling people. Outreach is the time to meet people where they are and provide information about ACP, including dates and where Digital Navigators can help them enroll in the program. Outreach is the time to use our networks and collaborate with organizations the community trusts and for us to do the heavy lifting and sign people up or support those who want to be Digital Navigators through capacity building. Enrollment is the time to engage Digital Navigators in the community to assist people in signing up. This will involve engaging the external audiences and working with people, businesses, nonprofits, government, and media to rethink this obstacle and explore solutions.

It was only three years ago that COVID hit, and the world relied on the internet to stay connected, get information, work remotely, and see a doctor. This exacerbated the digital divide. Today, things have mostly returned to normal. We co-exist with COVID, but we cannot let the digital divide become invisible again. We need to create public-private partnerships and collaborate on closing this gap.

The ACP website has several tools that are easily downloadable, customizable, and in multiple languages already created for us. Businesses are filled with technology, and where does that technology go when they get new computers? It can be donated and refurbished and end up in the hands of someone who needs it. Digital access affects us all, but if we look around, we can see that we are surrounded by the resources we need to connect people in our community. Each external audience holds a nut, a screw, or a washer required to build our sturdy stool. At some point in our lives, most have bought furniture from Ikea or Home Depot, put it together by ourselves, and ended up with a part left over. It is much easier to build that piece of furniture with a partner and take the time to find where and how the pieces fit correctly. I urge you to be a leader in convening a team of builders and use the opportunity the Affordable Connectivity Program provides to start putting some pieces together because our digital arena needs everyone in it to thrive.

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