Closing North Carolina’s Digital Divide

For students to thrive in school, support services for students are essential. Needed supports, like broadband connectivity, are critical to eliminating gaps and allowing all students to access the full scope of opportunities available to them so they may benefiting from high-quality instruction. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that 20 of the nation’s internet service providers have committed to lowering costs for low-income households – a step that will help improve access to high-speed internet for 48 million households nationwide, including many right here in North Carolina. Further, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) lowers internet costs for eligible families by up to $30 a month through grant funding. 

This webpage will walk you through the ACP, eligibility for the program, how to apply, and resources for you to learn more and share information with others about the benefits available to students and families. 

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Check your eligibility and enroll in the ACP at http://getinternet.gov.

Affordable Connectivity Program Fact Sheet (FCC) 
The ACP Fact Sheet is a great, concise explainer document for all interested in the Affordable Connectivity Program.  

Affordable Connectivity Program Resources (ExcelinEd) 
ExcelinEd has developed resources that can be shared to help communities in need to spread the word about the ACP. The resources include flyers and social media graphics and both Spanish and English for these year-round campaigns to help connect the families in your community to reliable broadband services. 

ACP Consumer Outreach Toolkit (FCC) 
The FCC is mobilizing people and organizations to help raise awareness about the ACP. The materials included in the linked Outreach Kit are available for public use, and can be downloaded and customized to meet your needs. The toolkit includes downloadable Affordable Connectivity Program social media images, flyers, backpack handouts, fact sheets, and other outreach content and materials that can be customized for consumer awareness campaigns. 

ACP Subscribers in NC (Friday Institute) 
Dive deeper with a county-level view of ACP subscribers in the state. This link will allow users to toggle between counties and better understand where enrollments have improved.

Closing the Digital Divide in Education Act Policy Brief (ExcelinEd) 
This ExcelinEd resource breaks down the Closing the Digital Divide in Education Act including raising awareness of broadband affordability programs and prioritizing education in broadband grant programs. 

Closing the Home Broadband Affordability Gap (ExcelinEd) 
This ExcelinEd blog post outlines steps to take to close the digital divide as well as best practices for state leaders. 

Digital Equity (Consortium for School Networking (CoSN)
This resource helps define digital equity, discusses a Student Home Internet Connectivity Study and includes a Student Home Connectivity Playbook.  

Equity for Digital-Age Learning: Education Leaders Address New Challenges in North Carolina Schools (The Friday Institute at North Carolina State University) 
Digital inequities-or the divide amongst students who have and do not have access to digital resources —has become a national concern among K-12 educators in recent years. Research has documented the impacts of differential access to technology, however, as many districts and schools across the country move closer to fully transitioning to digital-age learning, digital inequity among K-12 students has become a more salient concern. 

Homework Gap and Connectivity Divide (FCC) 
Nearly 17 million school children lack internet access at home, creating a nationwide Homework Gap that left unsolved could be become an opportunity gap. The FCC is working on two major programs to provide help to these communities: the Emergency Broadband Benefit and Affordable Connectivity Program. Learn more about these programs and the work the FCC is doing with them. 

Operation Polaris 2.0 (NCDPI) 
Operation Polaris 2.0 builds on the successful strategies implemented during the past two years and seizes the opportunity to optimize systems and introduce policies that drive the best possible outcomes for students in NC public schools and public charter schools.  One of the seven strategies featured in Operation Polaris 2.0 is Student Support Services, including broadband connectivity. and prepare students for success in an ever-changing world.  

Who Is Affected by the Digital Divide? (NC Department of Technology (NCDIT)
The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to technology, the internet and digital literacy training and those who do not. It affects all generations – both rural and urban communities – as well as a wide variety of industries and sectors. This resource offers a look at some of the groups of people affected by the digital divide. 

Full FAQ information provided by the FCC. Excerpts provided below.

How do I apply for the ACP benefit? 
You can apply online, by mail, or by contacting your internet provider. Find information about applying here

How do I use my ACP benefit? Who Is Eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program? 
A household is eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program if the household income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or if a member of the household meets at least one of the criteria below: 

  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; 
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider's existing low-income internet program; 
  • Participates in one of these assistance programs: 
    • Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program, including at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Community Eligibility Provision schools. 
    • SNAP 
    • Medicaid 
    • Federal Housing Assistance, including: 
      • Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program (Section 8 Vouchers) 
      • Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA)/Section 202/ Section 811 
      • Public Housing 
      • Affordable Housing Programs for American Indians, Alaska Natives or Native Hawaiians 
    • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 
    • WIC 
    • Veterans Pension or Survivor Benefits 
    • or Lifeline
  • Participates in one of these assistance programs and lives on Qualifying Tribal lands
    • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance  
    • Tribal TANF 
    • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations 
    • Tribal Head Start (income based) 

What is included in the ACP benefit?  
The benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. 

The Affordable Connectivity Program is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household. 

How Does the ACP Protect Consumers? 
FCC rules protect Affordable Connectivity Program recipients by: 

  • Empowering consumers to choose the service plan that best meets their needs (including a plan they may already be on); 
  • Ensuring consumers have access to supported broadband services regardless of their credit status;
  • Prohibiting providers from excluding consumers with past due balances or prior debt from enrolling in the program; 
  • Preventing consumers from being forced into more expensive or lower quality plans in order to receive the ACP; 
  • Ensuring that consumers are not liable for early termination fees; 
  • Reducing the potential for bill shock or other financial harms; 
  • Allowing ACP recipients to switch providers or broadband service offerings; and 
  • Providing a dedicated FCC process for ACP complaints

Which Internet Service Providers Are Participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program? 
Various internet providers, including those offering landline and wireless internet service, are participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program. Find internet service providers offering the benefit in your state or territory.  

Additional state efforts to provide connectivity to all students is being achieved through a partnership between NCDPI and the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) and its Division of Broadband and Digital Equity (North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office).