SheerID wants to help ACP households pay their bills

  • SheerID, an identity verification company, has a tool telcos can use to verify households for government assistance programs

  • The tool would allow ISPs to keep offering discounted internet plans to households that need it if ACP goes away

  • Verifying households for low-cost internet plans is going to get trickier if ACP ends

With the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) on the line, ISPs want to ensure their low-income subscribers don’t lose internet access – and that nobody falls through the cracks.

Identity verification company SheerID has launched a tool allowing telcos to verify that households are eligible for government assistance programs. With the ACP slated to run out of funding at the end of April, SheerID said its verification tool is a way for carriers to continue reduced rate pricing and promotions to families who need extra financial support.

Bill Schneider, VP of product marketing at SheerID, said the company’s been around for about 12 years now, working with carriers like AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile and USCellular. In Comcast’s case, the company uses SheerID to verify subscribers for its college student internet plan.

SheerID is in talks with a number of its customers “in terms of transitioning off the ACP program into using our product” for supporting families on government assistance. But as the product just came out, there aren’t any partnerships to announce so far.

How does SheerID figure out if a household is eligible by income? Schneider explained the company has “connections to 200,000 authoritative data sources around the world to verify somebody’s credentials.”

"We have authoritative data sources that regularly update household income around the country from credit bureaus and identity sources," he said.

And in case you were feeling a little wary about a company having this much access to consumer data, Schneider noted, “We don’t store that data in any way – we don’t share it or resell it.”

Perhaps it’s easier to determine if a household’s qualified for ACP or other low-cost internet programs if they’re also enrolled in say, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The income guidelines for ACP and SNAP are “very similar,” said Schneider, though “they may not be one-for-one.” But SNAP and other government assistance programs can still help with the verification process.

The intent behind SheerID, he said, is to help provide services to families that “really have to stretch their dollars because they don’t have the available income that the general population does.”

“Any one of these programs helps satisfy that. SNAP is a good proxy because it’s nationwide and is also determined at the state level,” Schneider added. “So it’s very well-customized to the economic conditions within the state.”

Keeping Up with the Verifications

All told, determining eligibility for low-cost internet plans is going to get a lot less organized if ACP goes away.

While the FCC has allowed some ISPs to verify ACP eligibility themselves, consumers applying for ACP have typically gone through the National Verifier, a centralized application system managed by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).

Earlier this year, Christa Shute, executive director of NEK Community Broadband, told Fierce her communications union district intends to continue subsidizing households on ACP if the program ends.

However, verifying those households without the help of the federal government is going to be tricky.

“The hardest part is coming up with a verification process if the ACP verification process is no longer available, which is why one of the largest benefits of the ACP is having one national program versus every state having its own rules,” Shute said in January.

Joe Kane, director of broadband and spectrum policy at ITIF, said there will likely be challenges “when trying to piece together ersatz low-income programs on an ISP-by-ISP basis in the absence of ACP.”

Still, ISPs can use the experience from offering their own discounted plans to “muddle through” the transition from ACP.

“It does seem likely, however, that some people will fall through the cracks,” Kane said.

Would the verification process change if ACP is paused and then restored?

“Since changes to ACP eligibility requirements and verification procedures could be part of a legislative compromise, I would expect some leg work will be needed to refresh the participants before we get back to the status quo,” he added.