Growth in Emergency Broadband Benefit Enrollment since June has been in Large Cities and Places with Low Broadband Adoption

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Digital Beat

John Horrigan
     Horrigan 

Since the Emergency Broadband Benefit launched in May 2021, enrollment has grown steadily. By the end of June, 3.1 million households had enrolled, a figure that rose to 7.4 million by the beginning of November. Analysis of the geography of this growth shows that it was not evenly distributed. South Florida, Detroit, Chicago, and New York City have all seen very strong growth in enrollment since June. In the Los Angeles area, more than 100,000 additional households have signed up since then. At the same time, the general pattern of enrollment indicates that places most in need of the Emergency Broadband Benefit (that is, those with low home broadband adoption rates) have the highest rates of households signing up for the benefit.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit is reaching people in the places that have the most people in need

The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) posts enrollment data by 3-digit zip code, which are often sizable geographic areas. Early analysis of zip 3 data showed a number of places—such as Puerto Rico, New Orleans, and Detroit—had high rates of enrollment. Others—such as parts of Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta—had high absolute numbers of people signing up for the benefit.

Comparing enrollment figures in June to those in November for the same zip 3 areas shows where growth has outpaced the average and where it has not. For this analysis, the focus will be on the top 55 zip 3 area codes in terms of Emergency Broadband Benefit enrollment. In these 55 zip 3 areas, some 2.5 million households have signed up according to USAC’s November data, or 34% of all Emergency Broadband Benefit sign-ups. Between June and November, enrollment grew from 967,710 for these 55 places to 2,496,395 – an increase of 158%. The table below shows change in enrollment for the top 15 3-digit zip codes.

Table 1: Change in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program enrollment from June to November

 

June

November

Growth

Miami

11,228

46,832

317%

Hialeah/Homestead FL

8,877

33,501

277%

Detroit and parts of Wayne County

18,808

68,828

266%

New York (Bronx)

20,683

75,402

265%

Cook County, IL (includes Chicago)

21,142

76,385

261%

Tampa

11,899

42,279

255%

New York (Brooklyn)

23,476

76,540

226%

Memphis

9,609

30,480

217%

Buffalo

10,119

31,671

213%

Orlando FL

12,385

38,548

211%

New York (Manhattan)

17,801

54,393

206%

Lake County, FL

6,938

20,735

199%

Hidalgo, Starr, Cameron Counties Texas

21,291

63,352

198%

Los Angeles (Bell Gardens, Compton, Downey, Gardena)

12,126

35,356

192%

Houston and part of Harris County

21,965

63,638

190%

Miami and places adjacent to it have experienced the strongest enrollment growth. The data for some large cities have also shown significant increases since June. Three boroughs in New York City (Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan) have growth rates in excess of 200%, Cook County in Illinois (which includes Chicago), parts of Los Angeles, and Houston all have exhibited strong growth.

Another emphasis in the June analysis was the penetration of Emergency Broadband Benefit enrollment, that is, the share of all households who have signed up in various zip 3 areas. The June analysis showed that in places such as Puerto Rico and New Orleans close to 10% of all households had signed up, with 6%-7% ranges for Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The table below shows results for the top 15 zip 3 areas (excluding Puerto Rico) in the November data. For this analysis, the top 55 zip 3 area codes in enrollment had an estimated 10.3% of households had enrolled in the program.

Table 2: Places with greatest share of households enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

 

Enroll JUNE

Enroll NOV

Growth

% reached

Detroit and parts of Wayne County

18,808

68,828

266%

27.2%

Hidalgo, Starr, Cameron Counties, TX

21,291

63,352

198%

17.7%

New York (Bronx)

20,683

75,402

265%

17.4%

New Orleans

13,280

23,909

80%

17.4%

Philadelphia

29,655

75,870

156%

16.2%

Milwaukee County

21,287

46,002

116%

15.9%

Cleveland

28,190

70,784

151%

15.8%

Buffalo

10,119

31,671

213%

15.4%

Tampa

11,899

42,279

255%

14.3%

Los Angeles (most of city)

36,358

100,475

176%

13.8%

Kern County CA

7,637

20,501

168%

13.3%

Columbus, OH and Franklin County

16,489

39,341

139%

13.3%

Imperial and parts of Riverside and San Bernadino Counties CA

11,519

30,265

163%

13.1%

Lafayette Parish LA

16,051

29,233

82%

13.1%

Baltimore

25,032

47,666

90%

12.4%

Table 2 shows that South Texas counties, New York (the Bronx), and the Detroit area have high growth rights in sign-ups since June and a high share of overall households who have enrolled. Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Los Angeles have growth rates around or above average since June and also exceed the norm in terms of share of homes signing up for the subsidy. Finally, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Baltimore, and Lafayette Parish all have a share of homes that have signed up for the Emergency Broadband Benefit that exceeds the figure for the group of 55 zip 3’s. But that is partly because they were fast out of the EBB starting gate. Their growth rates from June to November were below the 158% figure for the top 55 zip 3 area codes.

Finally, Table 3 combines results for several metro areas whose zip 3 results were part of the top 55 zip 3’s for Emergency Broadband Benefit enrollment. These results do not necessarily encompass either the metro area of the place listed or the city proper. Los Angeles is a good example. The figures below are for three zip 3 areas for Los Angeles, which include most of the city, part of Los Angeles County east of the city, and a part (approximately 30%) of San Bernadino County. The numbers for New York City are only for the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

Table 3: Change in Emergency Broadband Benefit enrollment in large metros

 

Enroll JUNE

Enroll NOV

Growth

% reached

New York City

61,960

206,335

233%

11.1%

Los Angeles

64,484

177,206

175%

10.1%

Detroit

40,315

119,836

197%

9.6%

Atlanta

56,112

118,081

110%

5.8%

Phoenix

49,399

101,621

106%

6.5%

Miami

20,105

80,333

300%

7.3%

San Diego

22,939

54,505

138%

5.2%

As the table shows, New York and the Los Angeles over 250,000 more households enrolled in the program from June to November. Miami and Detroit had large increases as well.

Puerto Rico is a bit of a special case in this analysis. The three zip 3 areas in Puerto Rico have more than 300,000 enrollees, or about one-quarter of all households on the island. Residents of Puerto Rico have a high take rate for the Lifeline program, with over 50% of eligible households taking advantage of Lifeline compared to a 16% rate for households in the 50 states. It seems likely that many Puerto Ricans are using the Emergency Broadband Benefit to upgrade their existing Lifeline service. It is also possible that, with the well-established presence of Lifeline carriers in Puerto Rico, marketing efforts for the Emergency Broadband Benefit have paid off.

One pattern emerges across the urban and metro places in the set of 55 zip 3s: there is a correlation between broadband adoption in those areas and the percent of households that have signed up for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Places with low broadband adoption rates—such as Detroit, Cleveland, or Milwaukee—have the highest share of homes that have signed up for the benefit.[1] Put differently, the Emergency Broadband Benefit is reaching people in the places that have the most people in need.

Outreach to eligible populations may matter too. Concerted efforts to boost Emergency Broadband Benefit enrollment may be having an impact. In September, the California Emerging Technology Fund called for more Emergency Broadband Benefit outreach and has worked to spread the word. In New York, the city government and other stakeholders have touted a plan to address the city’s digital divide using the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

As the FCC transitions the Emergency Broadband Benefit to the Affordable Connectivity Plan, this data and other research offer some guidance.

  • Uptake of the Emergency Broadband Benefit has been strong. In less than 6 months, more than 7 million households have enrolled. By comparison, the high-water mark in participation in the Lifeline program in recent years was 12 million in 2016 (even though it is about half that today).
  • The pandemic has shown not just the necessity of having service, but also how many people struggle with affordability. In Philadelphia, for instance, one-third (31%) of low-income households lost service during the pandemic because of difficulty in paying their broadband bills.
  • Persistence in outreach is likely to be important. Recent survey research in Philadelphia showed that 13% of respondents had heard of the Emergency Broadband Benefit and 31% had heard of discount offers such as Comcast Internet Essentials. The Philadelphia survey, conducted in July, reflects results shortly after the Emergency Broadband Benefit’s launch; Internet Essentials has been around since 2012. Both figures suggest a need to increase the awareness of these programs.
  • Improving the process by which eligibility for a discount plan is verified would help. The Philadelphia survey found that, among low-income respondents who had not signed up for a discount plan, significant numbers had difficulty determining whether they qualified. The FCC, under the infrastructure bill, has the ability to conduct outreach. If the Build Back Better bill passes, the FCC will have funding to do this outreach. Improved processes for verifying eligibility could make a difference. 

These findings indicate that demand is strong for programs such as the Affordable Connectivity Program created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, affordability struggles are real, and that outreached and improved eligibility processes can make a difference to participation. Focusing on these administrative details is the challenge for the FCC to meet as it plans the rollout of the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Results for top 55 Zip 3 areas

 

Enroll JUNE

Enroll NOV

Growth

% reached

Miami

11,228

46,832

317%

7.8%

Hialeah/Homestead FL

8,877

33,501

277%

6.8%

Detroit/Wayne County

18,808

68,828

266%

27.1%

New York – Bronx

20,683

75,402

265%

17.4%

Cook County

21,142

76,385

261%

8.6%

Tampa

11,899

42,279

255%

14.3%

New York – Brooklyn

23,476

76,540

226%

9.4%

Memphis

9,609

30,480

217%

12.0%

Buffalo

10,119

31,671

213%

15.4%

Orlando FL

12,385

38,548

211%

10.4%

New York – Manhattan

17,801

54,393

206%

8.9%

FL Lake County

6,938

20,735

199%

7.3%

Hidalgo, Starr, Cameron

21,291

63,352

198%

17.7%

Los Angeles II

12,126

35,356

192%

8.2%

Harris County/Houston

21,965

63,638

190%

6.3%

Boston/Cambridge

7,156

20,700

189%

4.2%

CA San Bernadino County

13,474

38,028

182%

11.3%

Dallas County

14,791

41,321

179%

9.1%

Los Angeles

36,358

100,475

176%

13.8%

Fayetteville NC

13,741

37,700

174%

12.2%

Kern County CA

7,637

20,501

168%

13.3%

Puerto Rico

112,666

301,457

168%

25.3%

Riverside & Imperial Counties

11,519

30,265

163%

13.1%

Riverside County

13,474

35,241

162%

10.5%

LA County & some San Bernadino

16,000

41,375

159%

6.9%

Philadelphia

29,655

75,870

156%

16.2%

San Antonio/Bexar County

21,415

54,065

152%

10.0%

Atlanta – Fulton, DeKalb

12,319

31,036

152%

9.3%

Cleveland

28,190

70,784

151%

15.8%

St Louis

13,413

33,625

151%

9.8%

CA San Diego

13,559

33,640

148%

7.7%

Detroit metro

12,389

30,306

145%

5.3%

Merced, Stanislaus, Tuolumne Counties

14,179

33,876

139%

8.0%

Columbus/Franklin County

16,489

39,341

139%

13.3%

Macomb County & Oakland

9,118

20,702

127%

4.8%

Indianapolis & Marion County

17,713

40,064

126%

11.2%

San Diego County

9,380

20,865

122%

3.4%

Cincinnati (Hamilton County)

15,520

34,499

122%

11.2%

Milwaukee County

21,287

46,002

116%

15.9%

Phoenix

22,587

48,512

115%

9.8%

Greenville County SC

13,191

28,299

115%

7.8%

Maricopa County (not Phoenix)

15,153

32,150

112%

7.0%

Atlanta – Henry, Clayton, Fayette

14,307

29,883

109%

8.4%

Louisville (Jefferson County)

14,572

30,356

108%

9.6%

Tucson & Pima County

16,635

33,721

103%

10.6%

Atlanta – Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnet

17,753

35,857

102%

4.0%

Las Vegas

29,275

58,153

99%

10.4%

Kalamazoo County

10,680

21,119

98%

7.8%

Baltimore

25,032

47,666

90%

12.4%

Oklahoma City

11,417

21,179

86%

8.5%

Lafayette Parish LA

16,051

29,233

82%

13.1%

Atlanta – Cobb, Cherokee, Carroll, Douglas

11,733

21,305

82%

4.7%

New Orleans

13,280

23,909

80%

17.4%

Maricopa County (not Phoenix)

11,659

20,959

80%

3.4%

Tulsa

14,596

24,416

67%

9.6%


Notes:

[1] Across 30 urban and metro areas in the zip 3 data where it is reasonable to match those places to city or metro level broadband adoption rates from the 2019 American Community Survey, the correlation is -0.4 between broadband adoption and percent of households that have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.


John Horrigan is a Benton Senior Fellow and a national expert on technology adoption, digital inclusion, and evaluating the outcomes and impacts of programs designed to promote communications technology adoption and use. He served at the Federal Communications Commission as a member of the leadership team for the development of the National Broadband Plan. Additionally, as an Associate Director for Research at the Pew Research Center, he focused on libraries and their impact on communities, as well as technology adoption patterns and open government data. Horrigan is leading Benton’s research on the FCC’s Lifeline program.

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