In April 2023, Pew Charitable Trusts, the University of Southern California (USC), and the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) with the National Urban League (NUL) as an Expert Advisor, hosted The Future of Digital Equity: Research, Policy, and Practice. The briefing was an opportunity to share research results with Internet Service Providers (ISPs), federal regulators, and policymakers about the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and to discuss strategies to improve implementation to accelerate enrollment.
The discussion focused on ACP Enrollment research findings by the University of Southern California, Annenberg Research Network on International Communications, implementation experiences from Digital Equity experts and how to ensure the success of ACP to make it a positive foundation for future policy implementation.
Research results show that Broadband connection has increased since the pandemic, particularly in high-poverty cities. Data suggests ACP is helping with both net additions in subscribers and sustaining service for low-income households. However, if the ACP program ends gains made in connectivity by “subscription-vulnerable” households will likely be lost.
Furthermore, as of the week of January 23, 2023, only 15,789,443 households nationwide had enrolled in ACP. Millions of additional households are eligible but are not aware of ACP and so have not enrolled in the benefit. The research found that enrollment of the most digitally-disadvantaged is more difficult than necessary. The root causes found in the research for the slow uptake of ACP enrollment for the most digitally-disadvantage were: lack of information regarding the program, high administrative burden, and general mistrust of government. This has also been confirmed through CETF’s on-the-ground experience organizing and conducting numerous ACP Enrollment Events.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Digital Inclusion Approaches (MEDIA)
The Briefing’s convening partners were the nation’s premier Digital Equity Thought Leaders with deep creditability within communities and policy expertise to address concerns regarding ACP and the future of federal affordable Internet service programs. The National Urban League and Pew Charitable Trusts are trusted voices, who played vital roles in briefing ISPs, policymakers, regulators, and other stakeholders.
Call to Action to Increase ACP Enrollment
- Urge engagement of qualifying agencies to notify directly all ACP-eligible households.
- Encourage ISPs and federal officials to increase promotion and awareness of ACP, including offering a device benefit.
- Request expanded reporting by ISPs and the FCC to inform and drive accelerated ACP enrollment.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Digital Inclusion Approaches (MEDIA)
In the first-of-its-kind collaboration, nationally-recognized researchers from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, in partnership with the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) and with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, will identify effective and sustainable strategies for bringing affordable Internet to all Americans.
An Expert Advisory Panel of nationally recognized leaders will provide valuable oversight, including input on the research design and peer review of the study.
Orson Aguilar served as President of The Greenlining Institute for 11 years, and throughout his two-decade career with the organization was instrumental in framing key economic decisions with a racial equity framework. Under his leadership, Greenlining grew significantly in size and impact, including helping draft and pass critical legislation bringing new resources into communities of color, graduating over 150 Leadership Academy participants, establishing the Greenlining 360 Center as a hub for community organizing in Oakland.
Paolo Balboa is Programs and Data Manager for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). He leads programs on digital inclusion, web literacy and library advocacy. He began his career in public library education and outreach, first in Cleveland and most recently at the New York Public Library. He has worked with the Mozilla Foundation and with practitioners and advocates to develop a Web Literacy toolkit, including presenting at the American Library Association Annual Conference. He is an advocate for access equity in a variety of spheres, including transportation, housing, and broadband.
Dr. Johannes Bauer
Dr. Johannes Bauer is Quello Chair for Media and Information Policy at Michigan State University. As a researcher, writer, teacher, and academic entrepreneur, he facilitates the pursuit of rigorous and actionable research with an interest in digital economy next-generation media. Educated as an engineer and social scientist, Michigan State University has been his home institution since 1990. He advocates that appropriately designed, governed, and used, advanced information and communication technologies (ICTs) create tremendous opportunities and his ongoing research focuses on digital innovation (Internet of Things, 5G wireless), digital entrepreneurship (both for-profit and social), and governance challenges.
Joshua Edmonds is the Chief Executive Officer of DigitalC, a local Cleveland nonprofit focused on expanding affordable fixed wireless broadband in order to build equitable access to digital services, resources and tools to transform lives. Edmonds brings national experience after serving the City of Detroit as the first Director of Digital Inclusion and Innovation Technology. There, he developed strategies to expand computer and Internet access, and methods to track and evaluate the city’s efforts. Previously, he oversaw deployment of more than $1.5 million in digital-inclusion investments through The Cleveland Foundation, the city’s major community foundation. He also served at the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, where he worked on President Obama’s ConnectHome initiative.
Evan Feinman is Director of Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program for the U.S. Department of Commerce, NTIA. The BEAD Program will provide $42.45 billion in funding to expand high-speed internet access across all 50 states, Washington D.C. Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Island, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Previously, Evan served at the Chief Broadband Advisor for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, where he was Virginia’s single point of contact for broadband initiatives designed to increase the availability and affordability of broadband throughout the state.
Dr. Jon Gant
Dr. Jon Gant is Dean and Professor of the School of Library and Information Sciences at North Carolina Central University. He has worked as a policy researcher for more than 20 years and served as the founding director for Center for Digital Inclusion and Chair of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has an extensive history of grantsmanship in addition to mentoring, teaching and service, including serving as an advisor to the National Science Foundation and Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Dr. Amy Gonzales
Dr. Amy Gonzales is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her work examines the effects of social interaction via communication technologies on individual identity, social support, and well-being and the consequences of disrupted access to communication technology. She is especially interested in these phenomena for people from disadvantaged communities (e.g., racial/ethnic minorities, low-income populations, LGBTQ individuals, etc.). Her work aims to advance theoretical understanding and real-world solutions that may help mitigate the long-term consequences of new digital infrastructures that may otherwise exacerbate social inequalities.
Coralette Marshall Hannon
Coralette Marshall Hannon is a Senior Legislative Representative for AARP, a public policy strategist and digital equity advocate. She manages public policy implementation projects specializing in broadband, telecommunications, transportation, government affairs and seniors issues. She has successfully led campaigns and communications strategies to influence public policy and business practices on behalf of the aging community. She is a member of the Virginia State Bar Association.
Dr. Thomas W. Hazlett
Dr. Thomas W. Hazlett holds the H.H. Macaulay Endowed Chair in Economics and is Director of the Information Economy Project at Clemson University. He conducts research in the field of Law and Economics, specializing in the Information Economy and analysis of markets and regulation in telecommunications, media, and the Internet. He previously served as Chief Economist of the Federal Communications Commission, and has held faculty positions at the University of California, Davis, Columbia University, the Wharton School, and George Mason University School of Law. He has served as a technology policy columnist for The Financial Times and is author THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone.
Dr. John Horrigan
Dr. John Horrigan is Senior Fellow, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. He leads Benton’s research on the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program which provides discounted phone and internet service for low-income Americans and is a national expert on technology adoption, digital inclusion, and evaluating the outcomes and impacts of programs designed to promote communications technology adoption and use. He served at the Federal Communications Commission as a member of the leadership team for the development of the National Broadband Plan and as an Associate Director for Research at the Pew Research Center, where he focused on libraries and their impact on communities, as well as technology adoption patterns and open government data.
Amy Huffman is the Policy Director for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). She is a policy expert on closing the digital divide and ensuring all Americans can thrive in the 21st century’s digital world. Prior to joining NDIA, she served as the State of North Carolina’s first digital inclusion and policy manager for the Broadband Infrastructure Office, a division of the Department of Information Technology. For several years, she was a freelance writer and consultant, contributing to tech-focused publications where she covered North Carolina’s startup ecosystem.
Alyssa Kenney is Director of Digital Access, Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin is an independent regulatory agency that includes the State Broadband Office and the broadband expansion grant program, which seeks to make reliable high speed Internet service available and accessible across the state of Wisconsin. The broadband expansion grants encourage and extend private and other public investment to areas of where a private company may not see a return on investment that would merit private capital investment.
Dr. Aalok Mehta
Dr. Aalok Mehta holds a Ph.D from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, with a focus on technology and telecommunications policy. He currently serves as the U.S. policy lead for OpenAI. Previously, he worked as a Professional Staff Member on the Appropriations Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, as well as at the White House and the Federal Communications Commission.
Cy Richardson is Senior Vice President for Programs at the National Urban League, and a member of the League’s Executive Leadership Team. He is a respected expert on housing and community development, job creation and racial wealth equity and is a thought leader on issues related to building a more inclusive economy. Central to his work is the promotion of asset building and intergenerational wealth creation opportunities for people of color in urban America. As a grants officer, he has supported efforts to increase economic security and mobility for low-income families, close the racial wealth gap, and advance financial inclusion.
Dr. Sharon Strover
Dr. Sharon Stover is the Philip G. Warner Regents Professor in Communication and former Chair of the Radio-TV-Film Department at the University of Texas, where she teaches communications and telecommunications courses and directs the Technology and Information Policy Institute. Some of her current research projects examine local and statewide networks and broadband services; the relationship between economic outcomes and investments in digital media programs in higher education; social media; the digital divide; rural broadband deployment; e-government; telecommunications infrastructure deployment and economic development in rural regions; and market structure and policy issues for international audio-visual industries.
Olivia Wein is Staff Attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. She is the Lead Telecom Project Attorney specializing in low-income consumer access to telecommunications, energy and utility service. She represents the interests of low-income consumers at the Federal Communications Commission, US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Energy and other federal agencies and state utility commissions. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Universal Service Administrative Company; as a member of the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee and co-chair of the Universal Services Working Group; as a member of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Media and Telecom Task Force.
Dr. Glenn Woroch
Dr. Glenn Woroch is Chief Economist at the Federal Communications Commission. He is Adjunct Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley and is an internationally recognized expert in the economics of the telecommunications industry. He has served as a consultant to governments and the private sector on a wide range of telecommunications issues. For many years, he was the Executive Director of the Center for Research on Telecommunications Policy, a research unit in the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, and taught microeconomics, industrial organization, and econometrics. He has published articles on industrial organization, regulation, antitrust, and intellectual property and was a founding member of the International Telecommunications Society.