NDIA GIG - Grading Internet for Good with 3 red stars icon

NDIA GIG

NDIA created a low-cost internet ratings system, NDIA Grading Internet for Good (GIG), to evaluate low-cost plans’ affordability and quality. Low-cost plans are graded using a rubric and given a Good, Better, or Best rating. There are 18 possible points. Plans rated between 1 and 8 points receive a “Good” rating, plans rated between 9 and 12 points receive a “Better” rating, and plans rated between 13 and 18 points receive the “Best” rating.This page provides a detailed explanation of GIG and the criteria in the rubric. To view the GIG scores visit the NDIA’s Honor Roll of Low-Cost Internet Plan page

Why Did NDIA Create GIG?

Broadband service in the U.S. is expensive. Yet, essential.

Before the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), some internet service providers (ISPs) offered “low-cost plans” for eligible households. These plans differed in terms of offerings, administration, and eligibility requirements. Many smaller ISPs didn’t offer a low-cost plan. ACP set the standard for an affordable service plan, with requirements for cost and eligibility. It also removed barriers to enrolling in the program.

NDIA GIG reflect lessons learned from ACP that contributed to the program’s success, along with consultation with NDIA Affiliates. The rating system sets a standard for ISPs and encourages them to improve affordable internet plans. It also serves as a resource for digital inclusion practitioners and public interest organizations.

ACP closed service gaps for 23,269,550 enrolled households, enabling consistent connectivity for vulnerable communities, reducing stress, and facilitating consistent access to education, healthcare, job applications, and work. In the absence of an affordable broadband program like ACP, this guide can help digital inclusion practitioners navigate and understand what options are available from a range of ISPs. 

Affordable Broadband Leads to Consistent Connectivity

Access to affordable, robust broadband internet service is a key component of digital equity. ACP was a popular program because it worked. Affordable broadband initiatives have resulted in higher subscription rates and consistent connectivity among subscription-vulnerable households.

ACP proved affordable broadband programs make it easier for low-income households to get and stay online. Maintaining consistent connectivity is a concern for 49 percent of low-income households that are “subscription vulnerable.” These households experience stress and worry about paying for the internet each month. In addition, getting disconnected means households must use valuable time to seek out and sign up for new services. Signing up for discount programs requiring verification can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes to several days.

Cost of Service

NDIA recommends a low-cost broadband price point of $30 per month or less; $75 for Tribal households (inclusive of all taxes, fees, and charges), with no additional non-recurring costs or fees. The cost of service is a major reason households are disconnected. Affording the internet is an issue for 28 percent of US households. That is 36 million households! Sixty-two percent of US households making $50,000 or less say they can only afford an internet bill of $25 or less, and 40 percent of those households say they cannot afford to pay anything for home internet. 

Rural communities pay more for home broadband than urban areas. On average, areas with lower-density populations pay 37 percent more than urban areas. NDIA recognizes rural and small business ISPs face unique challenges and may not be able to offer low-cost plans in this range without a subsidy.

Rating Criteria

Many households are concerned about the cost of internet connectivity. However, when surveyed, people often mention additional reasons for not being connected, such as data caps, termination fees, installation and other non-recurring fees, and speed. Discussions with the NDIA community identified eligibility criteria and eliminating barriers as primary concerns for individuals signing up for low-cost plans. NDIA GIG assigns plans a “Good,” “Better,” or “Best” score, which incorporates considerations of cost, eligibility criteria, speed, data caps, latency, throttling, and technology type, with a focus on eliminating barriers for those who qualify.

We assessed low-cost plans based on set criteria:

Cost
  • Cost is the total monthly subscription fee. Plans are given an additional point if their advertised cost includes all taxes and fees.
  • Additional Costs & Fees – This includes any costs beyond a plan’s monthly subscription. These could include one-time costs like installation fees or recurring costs, such as taxes and monthly equipment rentals. While NDIA makes an effort to document all additional costs, it is possible that some costs may not be readily apparent on a provider’s website.
  • $20-$30 = 1 Point; $10 – $19.99 = 2 Points; $0 – $9.99 = 3 Points
  • Advertised monthly cost includes all taxes and fees = 1 point
  • No additional non-recurring costs or fees to the consumer; this includes installation fees at sign-up, hardware/equipment fees, etc. = 1 Point
Transparency
  • The Broadband Label is visible on the same URL as the plan information. It is accessible without entering personal information, including address = 1 Point

 

Speed
  • NDIA supports the FCC’s benchmark for high-speed fixed broadband. While the FCC defines broadband as 100/20Mbps, NDIA rates plans below those speeds as they may be the only plans available in certain geographic areas.
  • Speed (Download/Upload) – The speeds listed for each plan are the fastest speeds advertised for that plan. Actual speeds may vary depending on the type of service available in a given area, along with a range of other factors, some of which can be controlled by the provider and some of which cannot.
  • Speeds below 100/20Mbps = 0 points; Speeds at 100/20Mbps = 2 Points; Speeds above 100/20Mbps = 4 Points
Plan Performance
  • Latency less than 100 milliseconds
  • No throttling 
  • No data cap or data cap above 1TB
  • The plan must meet all 3 to get 1 point
Eligibility Criteria
  • Participates in these Federal Programs: 
    • SNAP, Medicaid, WIC, SSI, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit, Free and Reduced Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program including Community Eligibility Provision; eligible for the Lifeline Benefit; received the Federal Pell Grant in the current award year or Dreamer/DACA Award (where available); Additional Tribal Criteria: Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Head Start, Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations; Up to 200% Federal Poverty Level, or comparable federal, state, or tribal benefit programs.
  • 2 – 4 of the criteria = 1 point; 5+ of the criteria = 2 points; No eligibility criteria (open to all customers within the service area) = 3 points
Eliminate Barriers for Those Who Qualify
  • Subscribers can move onto a lower-cost or higher-speed plan when it becomes available within the same ISP without being penalized
  • The low-cost offer does not include an introductory offer
  • The low-cost offer does not include a bundling requirement
  • No contract required
  • No termination fees
  • No waiting period for current customers
  • Allow customers with previous unpaid bill to sign up
  • No credit check
  • 4 – 6 of the criteria = 1 point; 7 – 8 of the criteria = 2 points
Technology Type
  • Technology Type – This is the general type(s) of the service’s broadband technology. NDIA scores the plan using the best technology available on the plan.
  • DSL, Fixed Wireless, Satelite, 4G Wireless = 0 points; Cable, 5G Wireless =  1 point; Fiber = 2 points
Total Points
  • There are 18 points possible
  • Plans rating between 1-8 points receive a Good rating
  • Plans rating between 9-12 points receive a Better rating
  • Plans rating between 13-18 points receive the Best rating

Visit the NDIA’s Honor Roll of Low-Cost Internet Plans page to see rated plans and
learn more about low-cost internet plan offerings.