Federal broadband discount still available for Oklahoma households
By Gail Ellis
STILLWATER, Okla. – Thousands of Oklahomans are missing an opportunity to lower their monthly internet bills. The federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program is available to help households pay for internet service, but few have signed up since the program’s debut in December 2021.
The $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program is a continuation of the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit, which launched in April 2020 to help millions afford internet access during the pandemic.
“We were a top five participant in the precursor program, but now Oklahoma ranks about 20th in Affordable Connectivity Program registrations,” said Brian Whitacre, Oklahoma State University Extension rural development specialist. “Other states have put more effort and money into the digital equity movement, and we’re behind.”
Discount details and who qualifies
Whitacre’s research shows that of the total 1.5 million households in Oklahoma, only 175,000 are currently participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program. More than 400,000 additional households are eligible for the discount, including 273,000 with no active broadband subscription or cellular data plan. This translates to only a 35% participation rate among eligible households. Other states like Ohio, Louisiana and Kentucky have closer to 50% participation.
In the precursor program, residents were eligible if they made just barely over the poverty line, he said. Now, they can qualify if they make twice over the poverty line.
“With inflation the way it is right now, every cost matters,” Whitacre said. “If you’ve got a $50 or $80 internet bill, this program can really help.”
Eligible households receive:
- Up to $30 per month on internet service.
- Up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands (nearly all of Oklahoma qualifies for this larger amount, even if the household is not tribal).
- A one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50).
Most internet and broadband service providers participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Whitacre’s rural development work in OSU Extension involves advocating for rural broadband access. He often speaks to community organizations across the state and provides information on the Affordable Connectivity Program. His target audiences include:
- Rural libraries and the Public Library Association.
- 4-H and Extension.
- Kiwanis Club and other community groups.
- Religious organizations.
- Public schools.
Eligible households must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Has an income that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.
- Participates in certain 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.
How to sign up for a discount
For those personally registering for the program or helping others complete the process, please note the following required steps and personal information.
- Visit acpbenefit.org.
- Scroll down the page and click Apply Now.
- Provide legal name as well as a social security, tribal ID or driver’s license/military ID, passport, taxpayer or other government ID number.
- Provide address and indicate if you qualify through a dependent or on your own
- Create an account and apply for ACP.
- Confirm personal information and provide a digital signature.
- Contact a service provider and indicate participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program for a discount.
Whitacre’s rural connectivity research shows signing up for broadband internet access increases business activity, reduces unemployment levels and boosts entrepreneurship in rural areas. By 2026, the goal is for 90% of all Oklahomans to have in-home access compared to today’s rate of about 80%.
“The amount of federal money behind broadband internet right now should connect most of the country with good, quality internet within the next five to 10 years everywhere,” Whitacre said. “An internet connection is important, but it’s only effective if people take advantage of it.”
Whitacre can answer additional questions about rural internet service and the Affordable Connectivity Program firstname.lastname@example.org.
OSU Extension uses research-based information to help all Oklahomans solve local issues and concerns, promote leadership and manage resources wisely throughout the state’s 77 counties. Most information is available at little to no cost.