While public housing authorities have long known that digital access is critical to improve life outcomes for low-income individuals and families, recent increases in federal resources dedicated to broadband access are creating new awareness about its untapped potential.
Last year, the Biden administration funded the Emergency Broadband Benefit program with a $3.2 billion grant. In December 2021, the Federal Communication Commission launched the administration’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a $14 billion long-term initiative that offers up to $30 a month for the costs of internet service for eligible households.
At CLPHA’s 8th Annual Housing Is Summit last month, Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said in his keynote speech, “When I look at the data where we can reach more vulnerable households…, I consistently come back to housing. I see a clear synergy between housing and connectivity; if we are helping a family secure housing, we should be able to help them secure an internet connection as well.”
Public housing authorities such as the Jersey City Housing Authority (JCHA) and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) are already bridging the digital gap. In Los Angeles, HACLA, community partners, residents, and internet service provider Starry worked together to get 78 percent of the 1000 units of Nickerson Gardens in Watts online. JCHA is also partnering with Starry to bring affordable internet access to its Hudson Gardens and Thomas J. Stewart communities, and JCHA also put out a bid for broadband infrastructure and high speed, low-cost internet services with ISP Andrena winning the contract to wire four public housing developments.
The most efficient and effective avenue for federal government to expand digital access to low-income families is through public housing authorities. To take advantage of infrastructure that public housing authorities provide, the FCC is launching a pilot program to expand ACP participation among households receiving federal public housing assistance.
The dream of providing digital access to low-income Americans is within our reach, especially with increased funding from the federal government and broader awareness of the importance of high-speed internet to all facets of our lives. Public housing authorities continue to pursue new strategies and partnerships that make this crucial resource available to families in their communities that need it most. Now is the time for all stakeholders – local and state governments, funders, community partners and residents – to step up and join PHAs in making this dream a reality.