My very first time in Florida, I took the opportunity to visit my grandparents in Zephyrhills, a small inland town full of snowbirds. I was still a Master's student then and figured I'd use their early bedtime to work on assignments. However, a little bit to my surprise, they didn't have Wi-Fi. I thought, okay, but at least I can use the hotspot on my phone. Except, my phone barely had service. I couldn't send a text or load Twitter, let alone turn on my hotspot. This is the reality for many inland homes in Florida, and the further you move toward the coast, the more ALICE families face this reality.

This is why broadband access is so important. Think about all the information we get online. Think about the opportunities we have online. It's the primary way to learn about jobs, apply, and discover career and educational opportunities. In today's world, broadband has become a basic need.

However, home internet is not affordable for many households. As The Patterson Foundation's (TPF) initiatives innovate to connect with people, organizations, and communities in new ways through digital technology, creating greater access to that technology has emerged as an aspiration with broad potential for its work in philanthropy. To pursue this aspiration, TPF created its Digital Access for All initiative, which explores the efforts of multiple sectors working to enhance access to technology that connects people in ways that foster inclusion and well-being. We cannot foster wide participation and connect with all our communities without broadband access for all.

A promising opportunity to strengthen digital access is through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which helps ensure households can afford the broadband they need for work, school, healthcare, and more. ACP is a benefit that 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. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.

TPF analyzed ACP data and identified a substantial number of households in the Suncoast region eligible for enrollment, highlighting the existence of a significant gap. To optimize and amplify impact, TPF is initiating an endeavor to close the ACP eligibility and enrollment gap to ensure those eligible for ACP benefits are taking advantage of the program. TPF is leveraging its Digital Access for All, Aspirations to Actions, and Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading initiatives to train people to be ACP engagers. ACP engagers go out into the community to engage with individuals and families to help them discover if they are eligible for ACP.

Right now, thanks to ACP data, we know that only 38,774 households are currently enrolled in ACP across all four counties. Yet we also know that in Charlotte County alone, 88,988 households automatically qualify for ACP because they already receive SNAP. In Manatee County, we know 163,520 households receive SNAP, meaning all 163,520 households should also be receiving ACP, yet only 21,515 households in Manatee County are currently enrolled. This is the GAP.

By going out, spreading the word, and engaging with the community, we can help each other discover if someone is eligible. $30 a month may not seem like a lot, but for a family, that can mean money to do the laundry, gas in the car, school supplies, or a Happy Meal treat for the kids. Broadband is a basic need, and there's finally a program to help make it affordable. Now is the time to take advantage of it and get connected.

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