Affordable Broadband Uptake in the SRQ after the ACP's First YearPosted on April 09, 2023 by Maribel Martinez, consultant with The Patterson Foundation
Author's Note: As part of ACP outreach efforts, the FCC is mobilizing people and organizations to help raise awareness about the ACP. We encourage you to download and use their outreach toolkit with materials for public use and customize them to meet your needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred the first-ever federal funding to help make monthly broadband subscriptions more affordable for American households when it launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) in May 2021. On December 31, 2021, the EBB ended and was replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) with certain modifications.
As of March 6, 2023, about 33% of Florida’s eligible households have enrolled in the ACP. The table below shows where The Patterson Foundation’s four-county focus area of Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties fell regarding ACP participation and subscriber growth rates between January 1, 2022, and December 31, 2022.
Both Charlotte and Sarasota counties demonstrated low ACP uptake (14% and 13%, respectively) but high growth rates (78% and 69%, respectively) in 2022 compared to Manatee County, which exhibited both high ACP uptake (35%) and high growth (95%). DeSoto County, the smallest and most rural of the four counties, exhibited low ACP uptake (15%) and low growth (49%).
A January 2023 survey of low-income households by The Benton Institute showed that half had never heard of the ACP program or knew nothing about it. “Some 37% of eligible households that knew little about the program say they would be likely to apply with more information, and 31% said they would be likely to apply if they knew whether they qualified.” The survey also points to the importance of outreach and awareness efforts in driving low-income household ACP participation. When informed of their eligibility for the ACP, 31% said they would apply, and 37% of respondents who knew little about the program said they would likely apply.
After awareness, the survey also points to respondents’ digital skills as influential in their decision to subscribe and their eventual success with completing an ACP application. Respondents with high self-confidence in their digital skills were twice as likely to enroll successfully in the ACP (26%) compared to those with low levels of digital skills (14%).
Change Happens at the Speed of Trust
When information from community organizations such as libraries and churches is provided, 77% of survey respondents said they trusted these sources and other similar community anchor institutions. Considering the lower-than-expected ACP participation and growth rates in Charlotte, DeSoto, and Sarasota counties, along with 65% of eligible Manatee County households remaining, it is clear that more outreach can be done to help asset-limited households learn about and subscribe to affordable home broadband.
Additionally, given that individual digital skills play an important role in whether someone successfully enrolls in the ACP without assistance, a trusted consumer guide becomes paramount in helping less confident, less digitally-savvy people apply for the ACP benefit. This is exactly the role a Digital Navigator plays in our community and one of the reasons The Patterson Foundation supports the Digital Navigator Program. By building the capacity for people to become trained Digital Navigators, they strengthen their organizations and communities to fully participate in our modern digital world by prioritizing awareness-raising of affordable internet options, direct low-cost internet application assistance, and digital skills support.
Did you know local Digital Navigators have the tools to identify ACP-eligible households, collaborate within their organizations to craft direct messaging campaigns that reach low-income households, and make themselves available for 1:1 application help? Since a combination of email, text, direct mail, and local TV/radio were cited as preferred fonts of information among low-income households in the survey, utilizing these communications methods could reach intended households and increase ACP participation.
How You Can Help
Being offline affects us all today and may determine the success of our region’s future. Help Digital Navigators at CareerSource Suncoast, Easterseals Southwest Florida, FUNducation, Inc., Goodwill Manasota, Multicultural Health Institute, Sarasota Libraries, Goodwill Southwest Florida, UnidosNow, and Women’s Resource Center strengthen their reach and communications, spread the word that Digital Navigators are available to help everyone explore their affordable broadband options, and partner with them whenever possible.