Loading...

New FCC Programs Tackle Affordability Gap in Digital Divide

August 5, 2022 by Madeline Hughes
New FCC Programs Tackle Affordability Gap in Digital Divide
Broadband being expanded into an underserved neighborhood. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission Friday unanimously approved two new grant programs for its Affordable Connectivity Program. 

So far 13 million households have signed up for the program that gives Americans stipends of $30 for internet access each month. On tribal lands, the stipend is raised to $75. Another estimated 35 million households are eligible, and the new programs grant states and nonprofits money for educating people about how it works.

The commission was directed to do this type of outreach through the bipartisan infrastructure bill that is funding this and other broadband buildouts that seek to close the digital divide.

Commissioners Brandon Carr and Nathaniel Simington both applauded the programs for the built-in safeguards requiring grant recipients to update the commission on their work.

It makes sense to target people who “by definition” can receive the funds, Simington said.

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel spoke about some people, including a woman named Tiffany from North Carolina, who are already doing this outreach work to help sign people up for the benefit. Tiffany started her outreach work after receiving the benefit, Rosenworcel said.

“So when residents of Mecklenburg County, [North Carolina], call 311 to ask for help getting online, they get a call back from Tiffany. She explains what the Affordable Connectivity Program is and walks them through the application process,” Rosenworcel said. “She’s good at it. After all, she knows the benefits of this program firsthand. And she’ll tell you straight up that everyone needs affordable internet in today’s economy.

“We need more people like Tiffany — more folks who can spread the word, more partners who can amplify the good that the Affordable Connectivity Program can do and more organizations that can help us reach those in their community, in their own language, in a way that is accessible for all,” she said.

The $100 million Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program will target all of the 35 million people who are eligible to receive the internet stipends. 

The other $10 million outreach program created Friday targets a specific group of people who are eligible for the stipends because they live in public housing. It will be called the Your Home, Your Internet program, and it will ease the application process for the 5 million households who are part of housing programs like Section 8.

Currently, only about 500,000 of those homes are signed up for the Affordable Connectivity Program, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said.

Starks spoke about how confusion over the application was a major barrier for those in public housing who might not think they are eligible.

The program’s “consistency and clarity will undoubtedly help here,” Starks said.

These grants will allow “people to explore new ways of reaching that community,” Rosenworcel said. “Because I think there is a lot of room for improvement for getting people connected for work, for job opportunities, school, health care and keeping up with your community.”

This funding will help programs in states like New York, where the Association for Affordable Housing is already working on ensuring it gets people in public housing connected to the internet.

“What we are advocating [for] is fiber-like resources deployed through all of the affordable housing units throughout the state, along with digital literacy,” said Jolie Milstein, president and CEO of the association, during a phone interview Wednesday.

In 2021 the group released a report on how to target low-income individuals. It showed that 47% of New York households with annual incomes below $35,000 did not have at-home internet, compared with 6% of households with annual incomes above $75,000. 

The association has mapped out all the public housing units in the state to determine “if [broadband access is] in the street, a mile away or already in the building,” she said. If the building already has access, the association is working to get the residents online, she said. And if broadband isn’t quite in the building, then AAH is working with the state as it develops its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment plan, she added.

The groups are working specifically with landlords, including the Albany Housing Authority, to get internet access to entire buildings, because it’s often “burdensome” to individuals.

“[Y]ou have to apply online,” Milstein said. “So if you don’t have connectivity, there’s a lot of hurdles.

“It’s such an important tool to change people’s lives who are living in affordable housing and public housing with general public assistance,” Milstein said.

Each of the applications for the commission’s outreach grant programs is set to open soon.

Madeline can be reached at maddie@thewellnews.com and @MadelineHughes

In The News

Health

Voting

Technology

September 23, 2022
by Madeline Hughes
Tribal Leaders: Getting Internet to All Needs Greater Coordination

WASHINGTON — The lack of a national plan for getting internet to every native tribe in the country was on... Read More

WASHINGTON — The lack of a national plan for getting internet to every native tribe in the country was on full display Wednesday as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a roundtable discussion with federal agencies and tribal leaders working on connecting their people to the... Read More

September 15, 2022
by Madeline Hughes
DOJ, DOD Join FCC to Support Internet Routing Security

WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice and Department of Defense are joining with the Federal Communications Commission to support the... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice and Department of Defense are joining with the Federal Communications Commission to support the improvement of internet routing security. This comes after the commission launched a Notice of Inquiry in February seeking comment on the vulnerabilities of the Border Gateway... Read More

September 14, 2022
by Madeline Hughes
SpaceX Appeals FCC Denial of Rural Digital Opportunity Money

WASHINGTON — Elon Musk’s SpaceX is appealing the $885 million denial from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in early August.... Read More

WASHINGTON — Elon Musk’s SpaceX is appealing the $885 million denial from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in early August. The company had won the grant in 2020, which would have subsidized the deployment of its satellites to bring internet to underserved communities. The company called... Read More

September 13, 2022
by Madeline Hughes
Senators: ICE Should Stop ‘Orwellian Data Gathering’

WASHINGTON — Senators are urging the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to shut down its “Orwellian data-gathering efforts,” according to... Read More

WASHINGTON — Senators are urging the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to shut down its “Orwellian data-gathering efforts,” according to a letter sent by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Tuesday. The senators reference multiple reports, including one published by Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy... Read More

September 12, 2022
by Madeline Hughes
California’s New Law Protects Teenagers Online

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — All children under 18 need to be protected on the internet, according to California lawmakers, who recently... Read More

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — All children under 18 need to be protected on the internet, according to California lawmakers, who recently approved a new law that would extend online data protections to all children. They sent the bill, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, to Gov. Gavin... Read More

September 9, 2022
by Madeline Hughes
FTC Welcomes Debate on Data Privacy

WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission heard hours of testimony Thursday on how the commission should address data privacy concerns,... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission heard hours of testimony Thursday on how the commission should address data privacy concerns, particularly when companies use deceptive tactics to track consumers or data breaches occur. The commissions’ five-plus hour forum and public hearing on data privacy comes as... Read More

News From The Well