Some have been successful, but many have faced challenges. Here’s what they experienced and answers your most common questions.
After last week’s column about low enrollment in the federal government’s free or discounted internet grant, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), I heard from many readers about their experiences trying to enroll.
The process is said to be relatively simple. After applying to the ACP by providing proof of eligibility based on income or participation in various safety net programs, participants contact and register with a partner Internet Service Provider.
Although participation is voluntary, so far more than 1,300 Internet companies have participated in the federal program, which provides low-income households with a $30 monthly bill rebate (or a $75 rebate for eligible tribal residents). As of May, 20 major providers have agreed to offer a high-speed Internet option at the same price as the federal subsidy — meaning free.
Some readers told me they had never heard of the program. Some said they did but didn’t know they qualified, and many others encountered issues applying that either slowed their enrollment or put them off all together.
Sunne Wright McPeak, president and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), a nonprofit focused on equitable and affordable internet access, said based on interviews, focus groups and the experiences of local partner organizations, barriers to signing up are rising to a 60-40 problem.
About 60% of people simply don’t know anything about the program. Of the remaining 40%, half is shut down by bureaucratic inefficiencies and detours by Internet companies.
The other half needs to be guided through the process, whether it’s due to language barriers, disabilities, or lack of internet access or digital literacy.
Robert and Joanne Darling applied to the program after reading last week’s article.
“I knew about it beforehand, but I really didn’t know how to go about it and find out if we qualified or not,” Robert Darling told me.
They had to do a bit of back-and-forth to submit the correct paperwork to prove their eligibility, but eventually they were approved. And while their ISP, Hughes Network Systems, doesn’t offer a plan that makes the service free, they secured a $30 per month discount.
“While completing the application and contacting Hughes was quite a hassle (especially for a couple in their late 80s),” the darlings wrote in an email, “we’ve been able to work our way through and are grateful to be receiving the benefit.” “
Others, however, were not so successful.
Some of you said you felt discouraged with the effort of collecting and submitting the correct credential or worried about the submission of such personal information due to the proliferation of fraud.
There have also been issues with user error, as the process, particularly when done online, can be particularly difficult for those who don’t speak English or are less digitally savvy, are elderly or disabled – some of the programme’s main objectives.
From the sample size of readers I spoke to, people had the most success calling the state AKP coordinator or state emergency numbers.
Challenges with ISPs
Maria Solarez in Sonoma was accepted into the program without much trouble. “That part was pretty easy,” she told me.
But when she applied for the discount through Comcast (Xfinity), she was denied. She applied again and was rejected again. On her third attempt, she called the ACP coordinator’s hotline, and a representative found a way to contact Comcast by phone and joined her in a call.
She is now waiting to hear if she will finally be admitted.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get a discount on my internet despite qualifying for it,” Solarez said. If she gets rejected again, she might give up, she added. Although the hotline staff have given her “a bit of hope”, the time and energy that has been invested so far with no result is frustrating.
In fact, from what I’ve heard, the most common problem people encountered was when trying to sign up with ISPs. For many, the process is online, which limits support, or sales reps give mixed statements about cost, eligibility, and options.
While the experience varies from company to company and even customer service reps, “households sell up from left to right,” McPeak said. “There needs to be better training and companies trying to really promote this opportunity.”
She said businesses need to focus more on signing up new customers, but noted recent improvements, including more prominent advertising and coordination with state agencies.