The Loudoun Broadband Alliance found that internet affordability programs are underutilized in Loudoun County in a report published Tuesday.
The report, “Making Broadband Affordable for Loudoun County Residents,” found that although about 3.2% of Loudoun households fall below the federal poverty level, only 1% of households are enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal program to offer low-cost or free internet service.
The report also notes that figure underreports the number of eligible households not taking advantage of the program, since they are eligible if they make up to twice the poverty income level, or up to $55,500 for a family of four.
“LBA believes that everyone should have affordable access to broadband internet service,” Director of Affordability Initiatives John Kiff stated. “LBA’s study on broadband affordability in Loudoun County indicates that many residents may be unaware of the benefits that are available, or they are unable or hesitant to complete the application. We need to change that.”
The report also notes that students in some lower-income households struggled to complete online schoolwork during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a “homework gap.”
The Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program provides up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households, and major internet service providers in Loudoun including AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon offer a broadband internet plan for $30 or less, making internet free to households in the program.
Households also qualify for the program if a family member received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year or participate in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program; federal public housing assistance; Supplemental Security Income; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; veterans’ pension or survivor benefits; Lifeline; or Medicaid.
With the report came an action plan.
The Loudoun Broadband Alliance plans to partner with organizations in Loudoun that work directly with households most likely to be eligible for the program, to promote enrollment and find other solutions for households that still struggle to afford broadband internet. They plan to begin in areas with internet access. Then, they will work to develop options for households in underserved areas, and finally to find solutions for households that do not qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program but still cannot afford the internet options available to them.
The report notes broadband internet in underserved areas, such as the county’s rural areas, tends to be more expensive.
The ongoing project to offer fiber optic connections from All Points Broadband to underserved areas of the county will include a $199 installation fee, and a monthly fee of $79.99.
The alliance will also be working to promote the state’s Line Extension Customer Assistance Program, which covers the cost of longer service drops to homes from roads and easements that contain internet infrastructure. However, homes eligible for the All Points Broadband project are not eligible for the Line Extension Customer Assistance Program.
Learn more about the Loudoun Broadband Alliance and find the report at loudounbroadbandalliance.org. Get more information about the Affordable Connectivity Program and apply online at affordableconnectivity.gov.