Photo: Carol  Kranitz

The Perfect Holiday Gift: Digital Connectivity – Affordable Connectivity Program

Posted on January 05, 2024 by Carol Kranitz, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
Wake up, roll over, and possibly get your AM drink. Sit down at your INTERNET-CONNECTED computer- communicate with or apply for a job, schedule a doctor's appointment, review a worksheet from your child's homework, or pay your bills.

WHAT IF YOU WERE NOT DIGITALLY CONNECTED…

WHAT IF….you were one of the millions who could not afford internet in your home?

While smartphones are great, they are currently not sufficient or secure for the digital consecutiveness needed today. Now there is a federal initiative, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), to help qualifying households* either get internet or reduce their monthly internet bill. One route to ACP benefits is with the assistance of a Digital Navigator who can process an application to access free or reduced internet, a one-time award of $100 towards a device, and free computer classes.

Recently, The Patterson Foundation trained me to be a Digital Navigator for the four-county region (Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota). A Digital Navigator is an advocate for the family by helping them with the application, with the selection of the documents that need to be uploaded for ACP eligibility, speaking with their internet companies explaining that they qualified for the reduced rate, helping apply for a device and then identifying resources for computer classes.

When I originally signed up to be a Digital Navigator, I didn't have a clue or sense of the negative impact of a family not being able to "jump" on the internet.

In the past 2 1/2 months, I have met some amazing people who were simply challenged by the system or unaware of ACP. Many just needed a little help during the application process. I also quickly learned the frustrations encountered by the computer application, the long holds on the phone to providers, and leaving messages that were not returned.

One of the families was a mom who came to the meeting with a spiral binder named Sally, filled with all her paperwork and documentation that ACP might request. She was determined to qualify as accessing the internet was going to be her Christmas present to her family. Submitting the application proved to be challenging as "incomplete." She needed more documents, which were returned twice. The third submission was a WINNER! The time between submission to response is almost like watching a wheel spin and hoping that the needle is going to land on eligible.

The Affordable Connectivity Program is a winner! However, it's important to note that despite a notable decrease in the number of households without internet access, the current coverage only extends to 29% of eligible households nationwide.

*Qualifying Households an income at or below 200% of Federal Poverty Guidelines through participation in ACP-qualifying programs, such as free and reduced-price lunch program, Medicaid, or SNAP.

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