In 2022, The Federal Communications Commission created “Your Home, Your Internet,” a pilot program designed to increase awareness and encourage participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) for households receiving federal housing assistance. ACP provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households that can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers. The program represents the FCC’s commitment to bridging the digital divide, guaranteeing affordable broadband access for every American.
Last December, INLIVIAN, in collaboration with The Center for Digital Equity (CDE) and EducationSuperHighway (ESH), applied for the grant–and won. The application process was quite competitive, with only 23 grant recipients chosen. The INLIVIAN-CDE-ESH collaboration is about ensuring that residents not only learn about and but successfully adopt ACP. The grant, just over $300,000, ensures that households in Charlotte-Mecklenburg can afford the broadband they need for work, school, healthcare, and life in general.
A Collective Impact
The trifecta – INLIVIAN, CDE, and ESH – launched YHYI in the greater Charlotte Mecklenburg area earlier this year with a bang. The kickoff event included representatives from the N.C. Department of Information Technology Office of Digital Equity and Literacy, Governor Roy Cooper, and Mayor Vi Lyles. While monumental and celebratory, the stars of the show were the residents who were able to sign up for ACP and experience firsthand what the digital navigator program was all about. All entities worked together to make the kick-off memorable and impactful.
“I think it even goes beyond the three lead partners in that we are leveraging the power of the residents themselves, too, and making sure that we’re hearing their voice and getting feedback from them, and continuing to iterate on the events and the materials we’re putting out,” says Erin Royal, EducationSuperHighway’s Program Manager. “We’re connecting two really powerful and huge institutions in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County that just have an incredible reach. They’re able to reach so many people, and from that, it’s also generating word of mouth. So it’s not just going to affect the people living in INLIVIAN properties who receive Section 8 vouchers; they’re going to let their family, friends, and neighbors know.”
A Community-Centric Approach
When you discuss promoting community and connectivity, it’s essential to talk about access and trust. INLIVIAN, CDE, and ESH have intentionally reached residents in a manner that feels authentic and ultimately to meet people where they are to raise awareness and provide resources effectively. Although the program aims to reach as many people as possible, the approach is to provide quality customer service to each resident. Meeting people where they are includes listening to concerns and needs and then acting accordingly.
“I really want to highlight the importance of including the (INLIVIAN) life coaches; I think they are the foundation of this work,” says Royal. “They are at every single event that the CDE is at. And it’s really so that they build that trust with residents; they are the first face that resident sees. It’s someone that they recognize and they have worked with before. And without that trust and building that bridge between INLIVIAN and the CDE. And potentially, ESH, this program would not be viable. So I think it’s really important to empower the people that are already doing the work and giving them the tools to continue raising awareness, help with enrollment, but also help change the course of our strategy and make sure that we’re meaningfully including them.”
Connection can’t happen without the human element. When it’s all said and done, connectivity is about people. It’s the linchpin to this work, the ties that bind. A community-centric approach ensures residents are connected and equipped with the digital skills to thrive.
The YHYI program is scheduled to continue until April 2024.
“So for us, in Charlotte, with INLIVIAN, we’re doing a really robust campaign,” says Royal. “I’ve seen a few other applications and other work that’s happening. And their work is incredible as well, but they’re doing larger events, maybe three, four or five; we’re going to every single owned property of INLIVIAN so that we can meet people where they’re at, which I think is really important for this work.”
Royal continues, “I really think that it is a collective impact in developing the strategy, implementing, continuing to get that feedback from folks as we go along. And it’s also involving the city too. So I think the CDE is just doing a really good job of bringing in all different perspectives and making sure that we’re leveraging all of the different resources we have to give residents the best option for them. It’s not just pushing the ACP, it’s not just pushing, pushing access Charlotte, it’s really making sure that folks get what they need, what they want, and that they are going to be good going forward.”
Making a substantial impact is the ultimate goal for every event and initiative by each organization in this partnership. Collaboration is always more accessible when the goals are appropriately aligned, and for INLIVIAN, CDE, and ESH, it’s been a perfect match so far.
Photo above: Erin Royal, Program Manager at EducationSuperHighway