The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a $3.2 billion provision of the Consolidated Appropriations Act which will reimburse internet service providers (ISPs) for providing broadband service and devices to low-income households. However, Congress did not allocate funds for EBB marketing or outreach.
Schools, libraries, community-based organizations (CBO), local governments and states have experienced difficulties securing participation in free and low-cost internet programs established during the pandemic. Conventional marketing approaches have often had limited success in reaching and enrolling the households most in need of these programs. This is due to those households’ lack of digital skills, connectivity, lack of communication and support from known, trusted community sources.
According to a recent in-depth study of digital adoption efforts in California – Programs that significantly increase the likelihood of successful home Internet adoption include informed advocates. These advocates must understand both the low-cost broadband offerings and the needs of low-income households.
NDIA’s Digital Navigators program model is an adaptation of traditional digital inclusion programming providing one-to-one dedicated support. Digital Navigators are individuals who address the whole digital inclusion process — home connectivity, devices, and digital skills — with community members. They are familiar with resources that relate to digital equity. Digital Navigators and similar digital inclusion programs have been guiding unconnected households to successful digital participation. We will need individuals in this role guiding sign up of the federal EBB.
Similar to Digital Navigators, Chicago Connected serves as a great example of this type of work. Knowing trusted informed advocates are essential, CBOs received funding to conduct outreach to eligible families of Chicago Public Schools students. CBOs serve as trusted informed advocates for internet service purchased through a sponsored agreement with two internet service providers. The CBOs’ work has had a positive impact on the number of households signing up for subsidized internet service. In highlighting the need for CBOs, Kids First Chicago Chief of Policy, Hal Woods, stated,
“We know that CBOs played a critical role in helping to explain the program details to families, including combating both real and perceived barriers to enrolling in the program — including concerns about past debt, requirements to have a Social Security Number (SSN), confusion over billing, and other areas of importance. Additionally, CBOs serve as our eyes and ears on the ground and help us improve the management of the program, including informing us when families have been inappropriately denied service or have encountered customer service challenges.”
Recently, Angela Siefer, NDIA’s Executive Director, participated in the FCC Roundtable on EBB. She pointed out that community based outreach is essential. Local community-based organizations, libraries, local governments, schools and housing authorities are trusted sources who can also help address the need for affordable devices, technical support and digital literacy training.