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NTCA Survey Finds Moderate Response to ACP So Far

Randy Sukow

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A 77.8 percent majority of those who responded to the latest Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report say they are offering qualifying subscribers broadband discounts through the year-old Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association regularly surveys its incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) members to track the construction and availability of broadband services they offer. It added the ACP question to this year’s survey.

According to the results, it appears that many rural consumers are not yet aware of the new program. “Of those respondents offering the ACP, less than half (47.9 percent) had 50 or more customers sign up for the discount, while one-fifth (19.6 percent) had fewer than 10 customers sign up and 19 percent of respondents had 25-49 customers do the same,” the report finds.

NTCA conducted the survey in August 2022, relatively early in ACP’s existence, and got response from 38.3 percent of its membership. About the same time NTCA was conducting the survey, the FCC was creating an outreach program to build ACP awareness. Many will be watching for growth in ACP usage in future surveys.

ACP provides discounts of up to $30 on monthly home internet rates for qualifying subscribers and discounts of up to $75 a month for households on tribal lands. The program also provides discounts on laptop, desktop and tablet computers.

Overall, the survey finds that while rural telcos continue to deliver broadband with a variety of last-mile technologies, the percentage of fiber connections is growing. Fiber-to-the-home connections rose from 75 percent in 2021 to 79.3 percent. Fiber-to-the-node connections serve an additional 4.1 percent of locations on average.

“More than eight in 10 customers (81.9 percent), on average, now have access to 100 Mbps or higher downstream broadband speed, compared to 75.6 percent in 2021,” the report concludes. “The biggest increase this year comes again in the Gigabit tier.” NTCA estimates an average of 60.9 percent of respondents’ customers receives 1 Gbps downstream or faster.

However, the 2022 survey also reflects the growing cost of providing broadband. Supply chain problems and a general sense of regulatory uncertainty are contributing to delays and rising costs. Respondents also say that as broadband service drives deeper into rural areas, they are deploying longer loops.

“I’m proud to share that our small, community-based providers have risen to meet this broadband moment again in 2022, delivering affordable, high-speed connectivity to some of the hardest-to-reach areas,” NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said in a press release.

NTCA this week released the latest update of its Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report, which tracks its member telco’s broadband service trends. A new question on this year’s survey measures participation in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides discounts on broadband service and internet access devices to low-income users. While more than 77 percent of survey respondents indicated that they are participating in ACP, it appears many eligible households have yet to sign up for the program.

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