SD9 - Commonwealth Digital Affordability and Cost Effectiveness Plan (Chapter 519, 2022)
This document is the Commonwealth’s Digital Affordability and Cost Effectiveness Plan.(*1) This Plan was developed by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and will be used by DHCD to access funds for broadband access, affordability, and adoption under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Specifically, this Plan includes:
• A summary of existing options for affordable broadband in the Commonwealth;
• An overview of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) – the $30/month subsidy for broadband services - at the federal level and it’s progress in Virginia;
• Examples of successful affordability programs and initiatives; and,
• Recommendations to address the affordability of broadband services.
DHCD identified several key takeaways in the course of developing this Plan:
1. Enrollment in the ACP in Virginia is at 27%, which is lower than the national average and several neighboring states. In total, qualifying Virginia households are missing out on over $24.5 million monthly through this program.
2. ACP enrollment varies widely by locality across the Commonwealth, with urban localities significantly outperforming rural areas. Regional disparities in Virginia demonstrate the need for a targeted approach to boost enrollment.
3. Virginia’s largest broadband providers offer a low-cost service option, many small-to-mid size providers do not offer these affordable service options fully coverable by ACP.
The following recommendations address how the Commonwealth can proceed to tackle the issue of broadband affordability.
1. This Plan will lead into DHCD’s development of the Commonwealth Digital Opportunity Plan that will study and develop solutions for gaps in broadband affordability and adoption.
2. Direct DHCD to implement an ACP outreach strategy via a Federal Communications Commission Outreach Grant application and partnerships with outside entities.
The General Assembly directed the Department to develop a plan to address the affordability of broadband in the Commonwealth. Through legislation, the Department was directed to apply for a planning grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to access funding under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The General Assembly directed the Department to include the following elements in the Commonwealth Digital Affordability and Cost Effectiveness Plan:
I. An overview of options for affordable broadband connectivity in the Commonwealth;
II. Recommendations on how best to leverage federal grants addressing broadband affordability;
III. Best practices for establishing a broadband affordability program, taking into account existing federal funds and programs;
IV. Recommendations for public outreach, with consideration of the report submitted by the Department of Social Services
In order to study this issue, the Department solicited feedback from various stakeholders, including representatives from industry and their associations, and representatives from local governments across the Commonwealth. The Department acknowledges and appreciates the contributions of stakeholders to this Plan.