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, the program does not allocate any of these funds for EBB marketing which will be an obstacle for community based organizations that sign up families.

Schools, libraries, community-based organizations (CBO), local governments and states have experienced significant 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.

Similar to NDIA’s Digital Navigators, Kids First Chicago serves as a great example of this type of work. As part of the Chicago Connected initiative, Kids First oversees CBOs that were selected and funded to support the initiative to connect 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students.  CBOs serve as trusted informed advocates for internet service purchased through a sponsored agreement. 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.”

Understanding the gap in advocacy that this work fills is critical to ensuring the success of the EBB program.