Access to broadband—high-speed internet—has become critical for everyday life. But its cost may keep some people from having access to it.
To make it more affordable for low-income Americans, the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program offers monthly discounts on broadband service to eligible households. As of Sept. 2022, over 14 million households had enrolled—about a third of the estimated eligible households.
FCC could strengthen the program's goals and measures, consumer outreach, and fraud-risk management to better ensure the program is meeting goals and protecting its funds from potential fraud. Our recommendations address these issues.
What GAO Found
The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program offers eligible low-income households discounts on the cost of their broadband service and certain devices. FCC reimburses participating internet service providers for providing these discounts. Since launching, the program has grown to include over 14-million subscribers.
FCC Affordable Connectivity Program's Subscribers, May 2021–September 2022
FCC established some performance goals and measures for the program. However, the goals and measures do not fully align with key attributes of effective performance management. For example, FCC's goals and measures lack specificity and clearly defined targets, raising questions about how effective these goals and measures will be at helping FCC gauge the program's achievements and identify improvements.
FCC has also engaged in various outreach efforts to raise ACP's awareness and translated its outreach materials into non-English languages to reach eligible households with limited-English proficiency. However, GAO reviewed a selection of these materials and the process to translate them and found that they did not fully align with leading practices for consumer content or for developing translated language products. For example, the translations' quality varied due to lack of clarity and incompleteness. Also, FCC's translation process lacked elements that could have improved the materials, such as testing with the target audience. FCC has also not developed a plan to guide its overall outreach efforts. Quality translations are key to informing eligible households with limited-English proficiency, which may include communities FCC has indicated are important to reach. A comprehensive plan to guide its outreach efforts would help ensure funds dedicated to outreach are used most effectively.
FCC has taken steps to manage fraud risks in the program, but FCC's efforts do not fully align with selected leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. For example, FCC has conducted a fraud risk assessment but has not developed an antifraud strategy to address the identified risks. It also has not developed a process to conduct such risk assessments regularly. Further, FCC has not developed processes to monitor certain antifraud controls. GAO identified weaknesses in these controls, including potential duplicate subscribers, subscribers allegedly receiving fixed broadband at PO Boxes and commercial mailboxes, and subscribers with broadband providers' retail locations as their primary or mailing addresses. Without regular fraud risk assessments, an antifraud strategy, and sufficient monitoring of controls, FCC may not be able to effectively prevent and detect fraud in this over $14 billion program.
Why GAO Did This Study
Broadband, or high-speed internet, is critical since everyday activities increasingly occur online, as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the inability to afford broadband presents barriers to access for some and contributes to the gap between those with and without access, known as the “digital divide.” As required by statute, FCC launched the Affordable Connectivity Program in December 2021 to help low-income households afford broadband, building from FCC's May 2021 launch of the predecessor Emergency Broadband Benefit program.
GAO was asked to review FCC's implementation of the program. This report assesses FCC's program efforts in: (1) establishing performance goals and measures, (2) conducting outreach, and (3) managing fraud risks. GAO reviewed program documentation, including outreach materials translated into five non-English languages; analyzed enrollment data from May 2021 to September 2022; interviewed FCC officials; and compared FCC's efforts in each area to applicable leading practices identified in prior GAO work or other federal sources.
GAO is making nine recommendations, including that FCC improve its program goals and measures, revise its language translation process, develop a consumer outreach plan, and develop and implement various processes for managing fraud risks. FCC agreed with our recommendations and described its plans to address each one.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Federal Communications Commission||The Chair of FCC should ensure that ACP performance goals and measures align with key attributes of effective performance goals and measures. (Recommendation 1)|
|Federal Communications Commission||The Chair of FCC should revise the language translation process (for both "in-house" and contracted translations, as appropriate) for developing ACP non-English outreach materials to include the following steps: (1) develop a plan for designing and producing translated products; (2) incorporate review and quality assurance steps into the translation process and document completion of these steps during each process; (3) develop and test the products with others who represent the intended audience; and (4) update and finalize the products based on development and testing results. (Recommendation 2)|
|Federal Communications Commission||The Chair of FCC should develop a consumer outreach plan, which aligns with leading practices for consumer outreach planning, to educate eligible consumers about ACP. (Recommendation 3)|
|Federal Communications Commission||The Office of the Managing Director should develop and implement a process, with clearly defined responsibilities and sources of information on fraud risks, for conducting fraud risk assessments for ACP at regular intervals and when there are changes to the program or operating environment. (Recommendation 4)|
|Federal Communications Commission||The Office of the Managing Director should develop and implement an antifraud strategy for ACP that aligns with leading practices in the Fraud Risk Framework. These practices include documenting and communicating the program's activities for preventing, detecting, and responding to fraud and establishing roles and responsibilities of those involved in fraud risk management activities. (Recommendation 5)|
|Federal Communications Commission||The Office of the Managing Director should develop and implement processes to monitor antifraud controls related to preventing duplicate subscribers in ACP. (Recommendation 6)|
|Federal Communications Commission||The Office of the Managing Director should develop and implement processes to monitor antifraud controls related to subscriber identity verification in ACP. (Recommendation 7)|
|Federal Communications Commission||The Office of the Managing Director should develop and implement processes to monitor antifraud controls related to subscriber address validation in ACP. (Recommendation 8)|
|Federal Communications Commission||The Office of the Managing Director should use information obtained from monitoring processes to improve the design and implementation of fraud risk management activities in ACP, including its fraud risk assessment and subsequent antifraud strategy. (Recommendation 9)|