Editor's Corner: I tried to help a friend sign up for the ACP - it was hard

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The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has been touted as a lifeline for low-income consumers in the U.S., offering a $30 per month discount for most households on their monthly fixed or mobile internet bill. But it turns out that lifeline can be hard to grab for a variety of reasons.

It’s hard to overstate how important the ACP is in giving low-income families access to the digital economy. For those who are fortunate enough to be comfortable, $30 per month might not seem like much. But for others, it can mean the difference between a broadband blackout or access to work, school, entertainment, telehealth and legal and government services. Thanks to commitments from operators to offer special plans fully covered by the subsidy, the ACP can provide not just a discount but entirely free access.

The ACP replaced the Emergency Broadband Benefit in December 2021, with around 9 million or so consumers rolling over from one program to the other. Since January, more than 4 million households have signed up for the ACP. All told as of August 8, nearly 13.1 million households were enrolled. But this number isn’t anywhere close to where it needs to be. In remarks made in July, Vice President Kamala Harris noted an estimated 48 million households – or nearly 40% of households in the country – likely qualify for the ACP. So why the gap?

Well, a key problem acknowledged by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is simply awareness. Many people don’t even know the ACP exists. Earlier this month, the FCC announced the creation of an ACP outreach grant program designed to help mitigate this issue. But a recent personal incident got me thinking accessibility could be another major problem.

Signing up for the ACP is a multi-step process. First, consumers need to prove their eligibility by applying through the FCC’s National Verifier system. Once they have an approved application, consumers must contact their service provider to have the ACP benefit applied to their account. Once that’s done, FCC rules require the service provider to make the discount available on the next month’s bill, an FCC representative told Fierce.

This sounds great in theory. But in practice the second step proved a stumbling block when I attempted to help a friend sign up to receive the benefit on their Optimum internet account. For some reason, Optimum’s ACP sign up site just wouldn’t process my friend’s credentials. An issue which began on a Friday dragged on well into the following week. As of this writing, my friend is still seeking to resolve the issue and to their credit Optimum has been quite responsive. While my friend is sticking around to see the signup through, it occurred to me that many others who need the ACP might either give up or simply not have the time to pursue it.


Yvette Scorse is communications director at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). She told Fierce the organization is a strong supporter of the ACP. However, she also acknowledged time constraints are just one of the hurdles consumers in the ACP’s target audience might encounter while trying to sign up.

Time constraints can “be a hurdle because consumers or digital navigators might have to call several times to find a[n operator] customer service representative who’s familiar with ACP. It might take more persistence, and some people might give up,” Scorse explained.

She added NDIA has heard that some service providers have asked customers to physically come into a store location to sign up, which can be a barrier due to transportation issues, disability, time or cost. Additionally, the easiest way to sign up for the ACP and enroll in the benefit with an operator is online – in Optimum’s case the only way to sign up is online – which requires access and digital literacy in the first place. There’s also the issue of price transparency and ensuring consumers who receive the benefit know what their bill will be once the subsidy is applied.

“So, without access to a device, internet and the digital skills to sign up online, consumers have a hard time,” Scorse said. “The demographics of ACP-eligible consumers are the same as those who are disproportionately impacted by the digital divide, so we end up going in circles, with it proving more difficult to sign up for free or low-cost internet for those who need it most.”

The FCC representative noted issues can also arise when the information from the National Verifier system does not match the information given to the service provider. To ensure a smooth enrollment, details such as the consumer’s first name, last name, date of birth, social security number and National Verifier Application ID number must be the same.


According to Scorse, there are two major things that can be done to help resolve key ACP signup issues. The first is using the FCC’s new grant funding to increase the number of digital navigators who are available to help walk consumers through the ACP enrollment process.

“The hands-on help and community components are essential in connecting more consumers to the technology they need,” she stated.

Second, she said internet service providers need to ensure their customer service staff are “knowledgeable and understand what ACP is, and what the program rules are so they can help consumers enroll successfully.”

Of course, issues will still inevitably occur. And, anticipating this, the FCC has created a dedicated complaint portal for the ACP. The FCC representative told Fierce that agency staff review complaints submitted through the portal to identify potential issues with the program. In instances where complaints identify issues that violate Commission rules “the Commission staff and USAC reach out to the relevant parties to take corrective actions.”

Only time will tell whether these fixes will be enough to help those who are eligible receive the support they need. We’ll be watching.