More than 1 million Ohio households likely qualify for a new federal program to cover some of the cost of home internet services.
This includes households with children eligible for free or reduced school lunch — which covers every parent in school districts such as Dayton, Springfield and Middletown — or making less than twice the federal poverty level.
The Affordable Connectivity Program, created by the federal infrastructure bill, covers up to $30 a month of participants’ home broadband service and provides up to $100 to help people purchase a device to connect to the internet.
The ACP is an expanded, longer-term replacement of the Emergency Broadband Benefit program that covered up to $50 a month. That program expires in March, and participants will be transferred to the new program.
Federal Communications Commission data shows 402,865 Ohioans participated in the EBB program.
That statewide total is less than a third of the nearly 1.4 million who likely qualified, according to an analysis by the consumer publication BroadbandNow.
And the new ACP program is much broader. Eligibility is expanded to any household making less than 200% of the federal poverty level — $53,000 for a family of four — and anyone on the WIC Program.
With $14.2 billion in new funding from federal infrastructure legislation, the ACP will build on the former program and keep it going for years, according to FCC officials.
“The response to the Emergency Broadband Benefit proved what many knew to be true: The cost of high-speed internet is out of reach for too many of us,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said when the new program launched Dec. 31.
“Now with the long-term Affordable Connectivity Program, we have the opportunity to enroll even more households and help ensure they can afford the internet connections they need for work, school, health care and more for years.”
Like the old program, households qualify if a member is on a government program such as food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance or disability; or was eligible for free and reduced lunch dating back to the 2019-2020 school year.
Entire school districts qualify
This means in school districts like Dayton Public Schools, where all buildings qualify under the Community Eligibility Provision, every one of the 6,965 households in the district likely qualifies.
Dayton Board of Education President Will Smith said many parents are likely unaware of the program, and the district should promote it aggressively because it could be a huge help to families in DPS.
“That’s not a small amount of money for some families,” he said. “We saw during COVID, not only in cities like ours but all over, the digital divide was a real thing.”
Montgomery County Educational Service Center officials say they have shared info on the new program with area school districts.
Across Montgomery County, 25 school districts and charter schools have at least one building that qualifies for CEP; same with three districts in Greene County, according to the most recent Ohio Department of Education data, from the 2020-2021 school year.
According to U.S. Census data, nearly 17% of the 224,328 households in Montgomery County don’t have broadband access. Nearly 15% of county residents live in poverty.
“Having broadband service is really essential to be able to fully participate in our economy and our society,” said Ellis Jacobs, a local attorney who works with low-income communities. “Hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio will qualify for (ACP) and it enables people who haven’t been able to afford broadband service to be able to afford it.”
Jacobs sits on the board of the national Universal Service Administrative Company, a nonprofit corporation implementing the program for the FCC. He made it clear he spoke as a community representative, not on behalf of USAC.
Companies offer service, devices
Internet providers aren’t required to participate in the program, but many do. The FCC website lists 78 providers in Ohio that offer wired or mobile broadband through the ACP program. Jacobs said he expects companies to competitively offer plans through the program to get the guaranteed monthly payment.
Twenty-five companies participating in the program in Ohio offer a connecting device such as a laptop, desktop computer or tablet. The program covers a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase such a device if the consumer contributes more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
The FCC doesn’t yet have an estimate on how many households may qualify for ACP. But it does have how many in each county participated in the former program: 95,150 in an 11-county region in southwest Ohio, including 25,649 in Montgomery County. If the statewide analysis by BroadbandNow holds true locally, the number eligible for the new program could be well over three times that.
One criticism of the new program is the FCC directs people to go online to https://acpbenefit.org to submit an application or fill out a mail-in application. Asked about this, FCC officials say people can also apply directly with certain internet providers or call 877-384-2575 to request a paper application.
Dayton Metro Library officials said they are looking into how they can help, such as printing off paper applications for people and training staff to help people complete applications.
“One-hundred percent we would deploy our resources and people to help folks access this incredible service,” said library spokeswoman Diane Farrell.
Who is eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program?
A household is eligible if a member of the household meets at least one of the criteria below:
- Has an income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines
- Participates in assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline
- Participates in Tribal specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, or 2021-2022 school year
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income program
Two steps to enroll
- Go to ACPBenefit.org to submit an application or print out a mail-in application
- Contact your preferred participating provider to select a plan and have the discount applied to your bill
Need help with the ACP?
If you need to talk to someone about your eligibility or application status, or to request a paper application, call the ACP Support Center at 877-384-2575.
Source: Federal Communications Commission