Emergency Broadband Benefit Recap: 7.1 Million Households Enrolled, Adoption Varies Significantly by State

Emergency Broadband Benefit Recap: 7.1 Million Households Enrolled, Adoption Varies Significantly by State

Written by June 29, 2022 | Published: December 6, 2021

The federal government launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit in February 2021 to provide low-income households with a $50 monthly discount on their internet bill as part of a multi-pronged approach to reduce the digital divide, which is a function of both access to a wired high-speed internet service provider and the affordability of service.

According to the November data from the Universal Service Administrative Co, enrollment in the Emergency Broadband Benefit reached 7.1 million households (up from 6.1 million in October). That is incredible growth, however as many as 30 million additional households likely qualify but are missing out.

We wanted to understand how and where the EBB is being adopted across the U.S. and found that adoption varies greatly by city, state and region. As an example, qualifying households in Kentucky are 10 times more likely to take advantage of it than those in South Dakota.

Understanding adoption is extremely important as Congress recently passed the Affordable Connectivity Program, which is replacing the EBB in 2022.  Households enrolled in the EBB as of 12/31/2021 will continue to receive a monthly discount for a 60-day transition period. Our point of view is that additional marketing of the Affordable Connectivity Program, especially in under-enrolled regions, is the best way to reduce the affordability component of the digital divide.

For this report we estimated the number of qualifying households by zip code and compared it to adoption data released by the USAC.  (Full methodology here.)

EBB Adoption by State

There are significant gaps in Emergency Broadband Benefit adoption by state. The chart shows the 5 states in the US that have the lowest enrollment rate compared to estimated qualifying households. Some of the gap is due in part to the availability of wired high-speed internet (Alaska and the Dakotas have lower availability for terrestrial broadband than, say, Washington D.C.).  However, New Hampshire has widespread availability of gigabit internet plans (not to mention, slower high-speed plans that meet the federal definition of broadband).

State Estimated Qualifying Households Enrolled Households Penetration Rate
South Dakota 51,576 3,750 3.63%
North Dakota 143,109 9,413 5.17%
Alaska 84,326 5,006 5.94%
New Hampshire 66,751 3,454 6.58%
Wyoming 90,978 3,300 7.27%

And these are the 5 best states in the US for EBB enrollment.

State Estimated Qualifying Households Enrolled Households Penetration Rate
Kentucky 508,260 172,243 33.89%
Washington, D.C. 63,133 21,371 33.85%
Louisiana 550,961 171,456 31.12%
Oklahoma 411,671 120,028 29.16%
Ohio 1,382,808 401,961 29.07%

The following map shows the percentage of qualified households in each state that are enrolled in the program:

EBB Enrollment

In terms of zip codes, due to privacy concerns, data is not published by USAC for some smaller zip codes. Because of that, we are unable to distinguish between zip codes that have 0% adoption and those that are excluded for privacy reasons. The 5 below zip codes have the worst rate of adoption of all those that have enrolled households.

Some zip codes, like Minot, North Dakota, do not have wired or fixed wireless broadband providers.  Other zip codes, like Fair Haven, NJ or Pinedale, Wyoming do have widespread availability according to data from the FCC.

Zip Code State City Estimated Qualifying Households Enrolled Households Penetration Rate
58704 North Dakota Minot 552 1 0.18%
07704 New Jersey Fair Haven 467 1 0.21%
57706 South Dakota Ellsworth 452 1 0.22%
88330 New Mexico Holloman 447 1 0.22%
82941 Wyoming Pinedale 441 1 0.23%

The following zip codes—which have 200 or more total estimated households—have perfect or near perfect penetration rates. The total number of enrolled households is similar to the number of estimated qualifying households.

Zip Code State City Estimated Qualifying Households Enrolled Households
86547 Arizona Round Rock 82.391 239
41839 Kentucky Mousie 67.638 195
86043 Arizona Second Mesa 207.97 566
86034 Arizona Keams Canyon 237.119 601
74103 Oklahoma Tulsa 141.76 345
86039 Arizona Kykotsmovi Village 186.733 437
86042 Arizona Polacca 186.019 435
85007 Arizona Phoenix 1733.327 3725
86030 Arizona Hotevilla 155.799 331
16501 Pennsylvania Erie 210.884 374
90013 California Los Angeles 1110.14 1911
86514 Arizona Teec Nos Pos 298.987 509
86044 Arizona Tonalea 414.869 699
32202 Florida Jacksonville 468.301 702
87420 New Mexico Shiprock 1435.552 2091
44702 Ohio Canton 109.755 159
14604 New York Rochester 299.344 404
41862 Kentucky Topmost 66.567 88
45203 Ohio Cincinnati 380.008 490
13202 New York Syracuse 774.901 992
61602 Illinois Peoria 118.738 151
06702 Connecticut Waterbury 513.142 642
44103 Ohio Cleveland 2381.861 2972
87416 New Mexico Fruitland 564.279 702
12207 New York Albany 260.498 323
87045 New Mexico Prewitt 285.72 353
44104 Ohio Cleveland 3461.241 4274
95202 California Stockton 805.966 993
44308 Ohio Akron 117.31 143
40202 Kentucky Louisville 754.21 912
41740 Kentucky Emmalena 80.606 97
41666 Kentucky Wayland 81.32 97
43604 Ohio Toledo 1269.851 1505
44127 Ohio Cleveland 691.74 811
90014 California Los Angeles 850.56 969
56566 Minnesota Naytahwaush 66.567 75
44110 Ohio Cleveland 2917.879 3283
90021 California Los Angeles 370.967 415
14204 New York Buffalo 1334.565 1490
40935 Kentucky Flat Lick 257.999 288
44311 Ohio Akron 1088.042 1198
14203 New York Buffalo 223.08 244
41650 Kentucky Melvin 81.32 88
41701 Kentucky Hazard 1435.384 1553
87323 New Mexico Thoreau 406.957 438
74106 Oklahoma Tulsa 2397.59 2545
87312 New Mexico Continental Divide 73.765 78
44115 Ohio Cleveland 1232.171 1288
44108 Ohio Cleveland 3531.507 3665
45214 Ohio Cincinnati 1465.305 1518
41844 Kentucky Pippa Passes 96.073 99
45225 Ohio Cincinnati 1456.868 1500
41843 Kentucky Pine Top 74.122 76
44507 Ohio Youngstown 818.671 839
41314 Kentucky Booneville 473.524 485
98104 Washington Seattle 1323.028 1355
41630 Kentucky Garrett 132.42 134
42647 Kentucky Stearns 429.265 431

And the following map shows the percentage of qualified households per zip code that are enrolled in the program:

National Broadband Coverage

To see how these maps compare to national broadband coverage take a look at our interactive coverage map: https://www.broadbandnow.com/national-broadband-map

Finally, below is a list of all states and their ranking for EBB adoption (1st is highest adoption).

State Code % of Estimated Qualified Households Enrolled Rank
Alabama 24.42% 7
Alaska 5.94% 49
Arizona 22.72% 11
Arkansas 20.08% 18
California 21.34% 15
Colorado 13.24% 34
Connecticut 16.90% 24
Delaware 11.15% 39
Florida 17.21% 23
Georgia 19.00% 20
Hawaii 9.45% 43
Idaho 7.52% 46
Illinois 14.18% 31
Indiana 18.89% 21
Iowa 13.72% 33
Kansas 12.47% 36
Kentucky 33.89% 1
Louisiana 31.12% 3
Maine 13.86% 32
Maryland 15.31% 29
Massachusetts 11.74% 37
Michigan 20.34% 16
Minnesota 11.28% 38
Mississippi 22.95% 9
Missouri 17.49% 22
Montana 9.62% 42
Nebraska 11.14% 40
Nevada 25.45% 6
New Hampshire 6.58% 48
New Jersey 7.65% 44
New Mexico 22.40% 13
New York 20.23% 17
North Carolina 22.36% 14
North Dakota 5.17% 50
Ohio 29.07% 5
Oklahoma 29.16% 4
Oregon 13.17% 35
Pennsylvania 16.33% 26
Rhode Island 15.68% 27
South Carolina 22.85% 10
South Dakota 3.63% 51
Tennessee 23.37% 8
Texas 15.36% 28
Utah 7.55% 45
Vermont 9.84% 41
Virginia 14.74% 30
Washington 16.79% 25
Washington, D.C. 33.85% 2
West Virginia 22.66% 12
Wisconsin 19.99% 19
Wyoming 7.27% 47

Conclusion

To encourage more adoption and reduce the digital divide, the federal government should do additional marketing of the Affordable Connectivity Program, which is replacing the Emergency Broadband Benefit in 2022.  In particular, states with lower adoption rates should receive higher amounts of marketing.

The Affordable Connectivity Program reduces the monthly benefit from $50 to $30, except for those on Tribal lands, where the benefit remains at $75 per month.  The ACP also expands eligibility, moving from 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines to 200%.

About our Data & Methodology

Who Qualifies for the Emergency Broadband Benefit?

A household can qualify for the EBB in many ways. Qualification for the FCC’s Lifeline program—which includes having a household income at or below 135% the federal poverty guidelines, living on tribal lands and participating in a qualifying Tribal Assistance program, or having a household member that participates in SNAP, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, or the Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit—also qualifies the household for the EBB. Receiving a federal Pell Grant for the current year qualifies you. If any member of the household has experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and the household income is at or below $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for joint filers then they qualify. Households can also qualify if they meet the eligibility criteria for a participating and FCC approved communications provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program. Finally, a household can qualify for the EBB if their child receives free or reduced school lunch.

To estimate the number of households per zip code that qualify for the EBB, it is necessary to use a subset of these qualifying criteria because many households will qualify via multiple avenues at the same time. Calculating the number of people who qualify based on each qualifying criteria would double, or triple count some individuals and give an inaccurate estimation. Additionally, data on the number of recipients of some programs is not available on a per zip code or state basis.

Estimating the Number of Qualifying Households per Zip Code.

The IRS publishes aggregate tax statistics per zip code and per income bracket that we can use to estimate the number of households that qualify for the EBB via programs that are based on household income. Specifically, this lets us estimate the number of households that qualify for lifeline (and therefore the EBB) based on having a household income at or below 135% the federal poverty guidelines as well as the number of households that meet the federal income eligibility guidelines for child nutrition programs. The IRS data omits zip codes with less than 100 tax returns in a year, income and tax items with less than 20 returns in a zip code, returns with a negative adjusted gross income, and rounds the number of returns with a particular variable to the nearest 10.

The above two criteria will be the only two that are used to estimate the number of qualifying households in order to avoid double counting households, because data for participants in other programs may not be available, and because many of the programs are administered locally and have different qualifying criteria for every state or locality. Households that qualify for at least one of the above two criteria should account for most households that qualify for the EBB because if a household qualifies based on a different criterion, then they likely also qualify based on the criteria we are including. That said, it is important to acknowledge that our estimate is likely to be conservative since it does not include the other qualifying criteria.

We assume that the number of tax returns in a zip code is roughly equivalent to the number of households in a zip code because over 95% of married couples file jointly (Fishman, 1). Since both criteria we’re using to estimate the number of eligible households are based on the number of people within a household, we will use data from the US Census Bureau that gives the percentage of households with each household size from 1 to 7 or more persons to estimate the number of households of each size per zip code. The below table from the Lifeline website gives the values for 135% the federal poverty guidelines.

Federal Poverty Guidelines

The IRS data gives us the number of returns in 6 adjusted gross income brackets per zip code:

  • AGI-1 = >$25,000
  • AGI-2 = $25,000 – $50,000
  • AGI-3 = $50,000 – $75,000
  • AGI-4 = $75,000 – $100,000
  • AGI-5 = $100,000 – $200,000
  • AGI-6 = <$200,000

Based on this data, we will consider any households in AGI-1 (>$25,000) with 2 or more members, and any households in AGI-2 with 6 or more members to qualify if they’re within the 48 contiguous states and DC. The cutoffs for 135% of the federal poverty guidelines are very close for those numbers and minimize the included households that don’t qualify, but unfortunately do not include many people in AGI-1 with a household size of 1 that might qualify. For that reason, this should still be a conservative estimate of qualified households. For Alaskan zip codes we will include any household in AGI-1 and any households in AGI-2 with 5 or more members. For zip codes in Hawai’i, we will include households in AGI-1 with 2 or more members and households in AGI-2 with 5 or more members. That gives us the estimated number of households per zip code that qualify for Lifeline.

Below are the federal guidelines for Child Nutrition Programs reduced lunch.

Child Nutrition Programs

From this we can see that the federal guidelines for Child Nutrition Programs reduced lunch are less strict than the 135% federal guidelines required for Lifeline. The IRS data also gives us data on the number of tax returns which claimed the child and other dependent care credit (N07180) in each AGI group per zip code. In the 48 contiguous states and DC we can safely count any households that claimed the credit that are in AGI-1 with household size of 1 as qualifying for the EBB without double counting anyone since we didn’t include any households of size 1 in our Lifeline estimate, as well as any households that claimed the credit in AGI-2 with household size 5. In Alaska we will count any households in AGI-2 that claimed the credit with household size of 3 or 4 and households in AGI-3 that claimed the credit with household size of 6 or more. In Hawai’i we will include households that claimed the credit in AGI-1 with household size 1, households that claimed the credit in AGI-2 that claimed the credit with household size 4, and households that claimed the credit in AGI-3 with household size 6 or more.

By adding together our estimates for households that qualify via Lifeline and households that qualify via reduced lunch, we get our estimate for total households per zip code that qualify.

We are keeping in mind that our estimated number of qualifying households in the United States, both total and per zip code, is a conservative estimate because we did not include every way that a household can qualify, because even within the criteria we did explore we had to omit some households (Such as households in AGI-1 with one person that are in the contiguous 48 and DC), and because privacy provisions at the IRS omit some data for tax returns from households that would qualify.

Sources

  1. IRS
    https://www.irs.gov/statistics/soi-tax-stats-individual-income-tax-statistics-2018-zip-code-data-soi
  2. Child Nutrition Programs Eligibility guidelines
    https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2018-05-08/pdf/2018-09679.pdf
  3. Stephen Fishman, JD
    https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/should-married-people-always-file-jointly.html
  4. EBB enrollment numbers
    https://www.usac.org/about/emergency-broadband-benefit-program/emergency-broadband-benefit-program-enrollments-and-claims-tracker/

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