Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Press Secretary, Paloma Perez, highlighted the progress of a trio of key initiatives: the Affordable Connectivity Programme (ACP), the Broadband Maps, and closing the Homework Gap
Speaking at the first ever edition of Total Telecom’s Connected America conference in Dallas, Texas, FCC Press Secretary Paloma Perez took to the stage for the morning keynote address, shedding light on some of the Commission’s key initiatives for bringing connectivity to every US citizen.
The Affordable Connectivity Programme
In November 2021, the US government signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act) into law, setting aside $65 billion to provide affordable, reliable, high-speed Internet across the country.
For Perez, the IIJA was “a major plot twist” in US broadband history, providing a once in a lifetime opportunity to help ensure that connectivity can reach ‘everyone, everywhere’ in the US.
As part of the IIJA, the government ordered the FCC to create the ACP, helping to subsidise broadband costs for those citizens that need it most. The programme devised by the FCC allows eligible low-income households to receive discounts of up to $30 a month for broadband services, which can increase to $75 if the household is on Tribal lands. In addition, eligible homes may also be able to receive up to $100 dollars to go towards purchasing a computer or tablet.
The ACP has been running since New Year’s Day 2022, with 17 million households having already enrolled nationwide.
“In Texas alone, it’s almost 1.3 million households,” explained Perez. “That’s 1.3 million Texas homes with connections they need for work, school or anything else. That’s 1.3 million Texas homes finding it a little easier to make ends meet each month.”
Perez noted that there are millions more households that are eligible for ACP support and have yet to sign up.
“Earlier this month, we made announcements for the first round of grants, with just about every state and territory receiving funds to support these outreach efforts. And we anticipate having a second, more targeted outreach grant funding opportunity available later this year,” she added.
The FCC’s Broadband Maps
In November 2022, the FCC released new broadband maps, providing a snapshot of infrastructure deployment across the US. Since then, these broadband maps have been open to challenge by stakeholders, allowing the FCC to create a more accurate as more deployment data is assimilated.
“To date, stakeholders – primarily state governments – have stepped up to provide more than 6—bulk challenges covering provider reported availability at several million locations,” explained Perez. “In the past four months, our mapping team has processed challenges to availability data for over four million locations. In other words, we are addressing availability challenges to tens of thousands of locations every single day.”
The broadband maps are currently updated every fortnight to incorporate resolved challenges.
In addition to incorporating these latest updates into their broadband map, the FCC is also in the process of updating their version of the Fabric, the Commission’s term for their locations dataset.
Initially developed on more than 200 public and commercial data sources, the first version of the Fabric identified over 113 million locations where fixed broadband could be installed. Now, the second version of the Fabric is almost complete, bringing with it a net increase of 1.04 million serviceable locations.
This net gain is comprised of 2.96 million additional serviceable locations, with major increases recorded in Alaska, US territories, and on Tribal lands, as well as the removal of 1.92 million locations, like garages and sheds, that had been included erroneously.
According to Perez, the FCC is now on track to release the new and improved maps later this Spring.
“And we’ll do it again and again, every six months, constantly strengthening this foundation for smarter broadband policymaking for years to come,” said Perez.
Ending the Homework Gap
Finally, Perez touched on the progress being made in the US to shrink the Homework Gap, a term related to those children who do not have access to broadband connectivity at home, which has become closely associated with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in recent years.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund, launched in June 2021, set aside $7.17 billion to help provide schools and libraries with the connectivity tools and services their communities require to facilitate an remote learning and an improved education. Since then, the programme has connected over 12.5 million students with broadband connections and equipment, having provided over 10 million devices and 5 million broadband connections.
“It’s not just a piece of equipment and a Wi-Fi connection,” said Perez. “It’s a piece of hope. It’s knowing your family now has a much fairer shot at achieving their goals and building a better future for themselves.”
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