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Thousands of Oklahomans qualify for internet discount

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Few have signed up for the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federally funded program available that helps households pay for internet service or an internet device such as a computer or tablet.

The Federal Communications Commission launched the $14.2 billion program in continuation of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which rolled out in April 2020 and helped millions afford internet access during the pandemic.

“When that [Emergency Broadband Benefit] started up, Oklahoma was a top-five participant,” Brian Whitacre, Oklahoma State University Extension rural development specialist, said. “Now Oklahoma ranks about 20th [in ACP registrations].”

Whitacre’s research shows that of the state's 1.5 million households, only 175,000 are currently participating in ACP. More than 400,000 additional households are eligible for the financial assistance, including 273,000 with no active broadband subscription.

Whitacre said that top participating states like Ohio, Kentucky and Louisiana have a 50% participation rate, whereas Oklahoma only has 35% of eligible households participating.

“Other states have really done a better job at outreach for this program and getting people to sign up for it,” Whitacre said. “We’re trying to do some outreach through our Extension Service, like working with local libraries to get the word out about this program.”

Another way Whitacre said Oklahoma is trying to catch up to other states is by creating a state broadband office that would serve as the hub for broadband access outreach. The Oklahoma Broadband Governing Board is currently looking for a director to head the developing state broadband office.

“When you do get households connected, they can increase their income, they can take training opportunities online, educational opportunities, learn a new career — all these kinds of cool things that you can do, that really will have an economic development outcome,” Whitacre said.

Residents were only eligible for the EBB if their income was just over the federal poverty line, but people now qualify for the ACP if they make twice over the poverty line, Whitacre said. Most internet service providers also participate in the ACP.

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Residents can reference this chart to determine if their household income is below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guideline and qualifies for the Affordable Connectivity Program.

“For a family of four, if you’re making $56,000 or less, then you are eligible for this program,” Whitacre said. “In this time of rising costs, every dollar really counts.”

Eligible households can receive: 

  • Up to $30 per month on internet service.
  • Up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands 
  • A one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50).

Eligible households must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Have an income that is at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines;
  • Participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
  • Participates in Tribal-specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision in the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, or 2021-2022 school year;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider's existing low-income program.

How to register for the Affordable Connectivity Program: 

If you are signing up for the program or helping someone sign up, follow these registration requirements and instructions below:

  • Visit acpbenefit.org.
  • Scroll down the page and click Apply Now.
  • Provide legal name as well as a social security, tribal ID or driver’s license/military ID, passport, taxpayer or other government ID number.
  • Provide address and indicate if you qualify through a dependent or on your own
  • Create an account and apply for ACP.
  • Confirm personal information and provide a digital signature.
  • Contact a service provider and indicate participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program for a discount.

Whitacre’s research shows that 80% of Oklahoma households currently have internet access, but there is a big gap between rural and urban areas. He hopes that by continuing to push for rural broadband access, the state can narrow the gap and reach 90% of households. He added people interested in registering for the program can visit acpbenefit.org or reach out to their county extension office or local library for help.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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