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The FCC awarded $66 million in funding to 197 community and government organizations to promote enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) – which reportedly is being used by only 25% of eligible households.

The ACP provides a $30 discount towards Internet service to eligible low-income participants. The discount is $75 on Tribal lands. Those discounts can combine with targeted service provider offers to make service free. Participants can get one-time discounts of as much as $100 toward a laptop or desktop computer or tablet if they contribute between $10 and $50 toward the purchase.

In November, the FCC announced four grant programs aimed at spurring awareness of and enrollment in the ACP. The awards announced today are from two of the four programs — $60 million from the National Competitive Outreach Program and $6 million from the Tribal Competitive Outreach Program.

The commission reviewed 350 grant applications and selected awardees in all U.S. territories and all states. Some of the activities that grant winners will employ are digital campaigns, door-to-door canvassing, phone banks, direct mail campaigns and events.

The other two grant programs aimed at promoting the ACP are the Your Home, Your Internet Program and the ACP Navigator Program. According to today’s press release, those awards will be announced in “the near term.”

“For many households, the cost of groceries, gas and rent can eat up the monthly budget, putting internet access out of reach,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a press release. “The Affordable Connectivity Program is the nation’s largest-ever broadband affordability effort, supporting internet connections in more than 16 million households. 

“That’s progress, but we want to do more to get out the word about this powerful program and reach families that may not know about this benefit.  These outreach grants will help us expand awareness in more communities, so we can continue the work to close the digital divide.”

The 25% penetration rate was cited by The Pew Charitable Trust. The main reasons for the low percentage are the complexity and cumbersome nature of the signup process, according to Pew researchers. The researchers said that the FCC is addressing the issue by expanding existing data sharing procedures and encouraging alternative verification processes.

Today’s press release highlights further actions that the FCC is taking to simplify the signup process. The commission noted that it plans to release enhancements to the online consumer application in “the next few weeks” that will make the application and enrollment process easier.

A list of organizations receiving awards today can be found in the public notice at this link.

Update: Later the same day that the FCC announced the awards, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said she had circulated a proposal with the other commissioners to offer a second, more targeted notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) for the National Competitive Outreach Program and Tribal Competitive Outreach Program. She said the proposal was part of a “reinvigorated campaign” to encourage ACP enrollment.

Joan Engebretson contributed to this report

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