“Trusted messenger” granted $350k to help enhance broadband availability in Mississippi

Published 10:10 pm Saturday, July 8, 2023

The Federal Communications Commission has awarded the University of Mississippi Center for Population Studies $350,000 through the new Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program.

The center – which the FCC has recognized as a “trusted messenger” – will use the money to identify Mississippians who do not have access to broadband internet and offer help to qualified households who elect to secure discounted internet service and to receive a device.

“We were one of five entities selected (in Mississippi), including the state’s broadband office,” said Anne Cafer, the center’s director. “This is part of an ongoing initiative by CPS to work with communities on issues around broadband. Our Delta legal fellow, Jillian Morrison is leading the charge.”

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The goal of the FCC’s $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Outreach Program is to establish broadband internet service in households who could not previously afford it.

Eligible Mississippians for this outreach include low-income households, aging populations, individuals with disabilities, individuals with a language barrier, racial and ethnic minorities and rural inhabitants. The objective is to ensure that qualifying households receive the broadband access they need for work, school, health care and other uses.

“We are very excited about this grant, as this program is underutilized within the state of Mississippi, despite so many people – including many students on campus and in the surrounding areas – actually qualifying for it,” Morrison said.

The FCC funding allows the center to provide information to thosealigible for discounted broadband internet service and to guide the sign-up process. This combination of informing and assisting qualified households aims to bridge the digital divide, to reach those who qualify within Mississippi but have not received internet service.

More than 14 million low-income households nationwide have enrolled in the ACP. The program benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for households in qualifying sectors, with up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands.

Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer or tablet from participating providers if they contribute between $10 and $50 toward the purchase price.

Qualifying households have at least one member who is a participant of an eligible federal program; for instance, Federal Lifeline or Lifeline-qualifying programs and recipients of Affordable Housing Programs for American Indians, Alaska Natives or Native Hawaiians.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is the only federally recognized Native American tribe living within the state. The tribe includes 11,000 members within 35,000 acres in 10 Mississippi counties. Those tribal households participating in one or more existing federal programs qualify for the new broadband assistance.

Tribal leaders have been working with one internet provider to expand broadband access both with physical implementation and financial incentives through the ACP program since last year, Morrison said.

“They have done a terrific job with ACP outreach and were one of the early recipients of an $8.43 million grant from the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program,” she said. “The work that they have done around broadband expansion and implementation is amazing.”

The Center for Population Studies’ mission is to educate, conduct research and engage in public outreach concerning population issues.

Those receiving one or more of the following qualifying federal programs may be eligible for the ACP Outreach program. Check the list and contact CPS via online form or email for assistance.

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
  • Tribally administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • Tribal Head Start (only those households meeting the incoming qualifying standard)
  • Federal Housing Assistance (Housing Choice Voucher Program; Section 8 Vouchers)
  • Project-Based Rental Assistance (Project-Based Section 8, Section 202 and Section 811 housing)
  • Public Housing
  • Affordable Housing Programs for American Indians, Alaska Natives or Native Hawaiians

Other household qualifiers include:

  • Income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines; Federal Pell Grant recipient during the current award year
  • Approved for participation in the National School Lunch or Breakfast Program (including Community Eligibility Provision schools)
  • Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Woman, Infants, and Children
  • Eligible for an existing low-income internet program

This material is based upon work supported by the Federal Communications Commission, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, under Award No. ACOGP2340166-00.