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The Tools Helping to Manage Affordable Connectivity Program Data

During a National Digital Inclusion Alliance webinar last week, experts explored several key tools and dashboards that help make data on the Affordable Connectivity Program more accessible to drive action.

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During an Aug. 11 webinar hosted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), experts discussed tools that help groups make use of Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) data.

The ACP is a federal subsidy program helping eligible households access discounted Internet service. Enrollment remains at under 50 percent for eligible households.

Although these are not the only resources available related to the ACP, four tools were the primary topic of conversation during the ACP Data Tools and Dashboards Deep Dive webinar: the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) ACP Enrollment and Claims Tracker; the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) ACP Dashboard; the Benton Institute’s ACP Enrollment Performance Tool; and the EducationSuperHighway ACP Enrollment Dashboard.

Katie Knox Mimoune, NDIA data and research manager, gave an overview of these tools during the webinar.

“The ACP is a huge priority, especially within the digital equity community,” said Knox Mimoune. “And there is definitely a growing concern that funding could run out as soon as spring of next year unless Congress acts very quickly to appropriate funds by the end of 2023.”

She argues that if this funding runs out, it will not only result in lost connections for many families, but also in lost trust in the services provided by the government.

In the meantime, the work continues to elevate knowledge of the ACP and its impact. As such, NDIA continues to prioritize spreading awareness and signing people up for the ACP, sharing success stories, and using those success stories in advocating that lawmakers re-fund the ACP.

The Enrollment and Claims Tracker is from USAC, the administering entity of the ACP, offering what is essentially a spreadsheet to display enrollment and the funding provided to date. This is released monthly for all 50 states and five U.S. territories.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance ACP Dashboard offers many features. Notably, it provides an estimate of eligible households to display the gap between those eligible and those enrolled. It also offers a view of several predictions of when the funding may be depleted based on changes in the rate of enrollment.

This tool also shows enrollment based on congressional district and offers a correlating representative’s name and contact information, simplifying efforts to advocate for the program’s continuation.

Christine Parker, ILSR senior GIS analyst, noted that one surprising discovery through the creation process of this tool was the variation in the release cycles of the data sets related to the ACP. USAC’s tool, for example, uses national and state enrollment data that is updated weekly. Enrollment data by ZIP code is updated less frequently, as is claims data. She requested during the panel that USAC provide more regular updates of such data.

The Benton Institute’s ACP Enrollment Performance Tool uniquely provides a performance score based on a statistical model. This score places ZIP codes into performance categories, ranking them from high to low. This tool also offers demographic information which can help inform a more targeted outreach strategy for underserved populations.

John Horrigan, senior fellow with the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, noted that areas with high levels of poverty tend to correlate with negative outcomes as it relates to metrics like health, but that this variable had a positive correlation with ACP enrollment.

“It shows, to me, the social dimension in enrollment in these programs,” Horrigan stated, also arguing that ACP enrollment rates are actually quite impressive for the amount of time the program has existed.

The final tool Knox Mimoune highlighted was the EducationSuperHighway ACP Enrollment Dashboard, which provides a state-by-state map. Notably, this tool displays which states have a governor that has made the ACP a priority. It also offers a graph to show enrollment growth and a feature that displays enrollment by city through aggregated data.

Katherine Aquino, data science and analytics manager for EducationSuperHighway, explained that it became clear during the creation process that both rural and urban areas are benefiting from the ACP, contrary to the popular narrative that affordability is predominantly an issue for urban communities.

Twenty million households are currently enrolled in the ACP, said Knox Mimoune, arguing that this number illustrates that the program is being used and has a major impact on the ability to afford Internet for U.S. households.