By Domenick Lasorsa and Arnold Liyai

Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology hosted representatives from 30 large cities and counties at a gathering during the NDIA’s NetInclusion conference. Facilitated by US Ignite, the meeting aimed to identify the primary concerns surrounding the conclusion of the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and discuss a path forward. The feedback was crystal clear: the winding down of ACP will profoundly affect communities nationwide and require new strategies from local leadership to mitigate adverse effects.

Their concerns echoed the following themes:

  • Lack of Alternative Options— the ACP wind-down means a more limited pool of affordable Internet options for low-income households. 
  • Broken Trust— Municipalities spent considerable effort building trust within their communities as they promoted ACP registration. The abrupt end of ACP will create a lack of trust in other existing and future government programs. 
  • Program Communication— There are gaps in communication between the federal government and communities about ACP, communication challenges between ISPs and program participants, and challenges between community leaders and residents about the upcoming changes, including a lack of information in other languages.  
  • Income Disparity—The closure of ACP will increase the cost of Internet access for all participants, making it harder for them to retain access. 

As digital connectivity proves to be just as essential as electricity and water, communities nationwide are taking innovative steps to ensure every resident can access the Internet. These efforts are vital in ensuring no one is left behind as we transition from the temporary federal support offered through ACP to more sustainable, community-driven solutions. Here is a glimpse of what communities are doing in the final stretch of ACP and how they are preparing for what’s ahead:

Legislation and Partnership

Through local legislation and partnerships, communities are setting new standards for Internet access. By requiring new buildings to include wired internet capabilities and engaging with service providers, they ensure that future infrastructure is built with connectivity in mind. Communities are open to leveraging public spaces, such as parks and libraries, and transforming them into connectivity hubs that serve the community’s digital needs.

Infrastructure Innovation and BEAD Funding

With Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding on the horizon, communities are already laying the groundwork for transformative infrastructure projects. From revitalizing community centers with state-of-the-art digital access points to deploying fiber networks that ensure high-speed Internet is a reality for all, the focus is clear: infrastructure development is vital to achieving digital equity. Many communities are still determining how much (if any) funding they will receive, but they are paving the way forward and using this time to make long-term infrastructure plans. Funding is always a concern, and communities seek innovative ways to partner with the state and federal government agencies and the private sector.

Communities are open to leveraging public spaces, such as parks and libraries, and transforming them into connectivity hubs that serve the community's digital needs.

Community-Centric Solutions

Whether through pilot programs exploring innovative connectivity options or utilizing community anchors for expanded fiber strategies, the goal remains to make high-speed Internet accessible and affordable. Communities plan to leverage public-private partnerships and large-scale events like the Olympics and the World Cup to fast-track infrastructure improvements and connectivity expansions.

A Collaborative Path to Digital Equity

The journey to digital equity is complex and requires the concerted effort of governments, communities, and private entities. As communities across the country navigate the challenges and opportunities the evolving digital landscape presents, their innovative approaches serve as a beacon of what’s possible when communities come together to prioritize connectivity. Many challenges are ahead, but with continued advocacy, innovative funding, and infrastructure development, achieving digital equity for all is within reach.

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If you want to learn more about specific examples of how US Ignite Communities are planning for ACP wind-down, contact us at [email protected].

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