The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has plenty of room to improve its Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) – which offers discounted broadband services to eligible households – by strengthening its goals and measures, consumer outreach, and fraud-risk management, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
The $14.2 billion ACP helps eligible households to afford internet access. As of September 2022, over 14 million households had enrolled in the program – about one-third of the estimated eligible households. The ACP is the successor to the agency’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program.
While the program has some performance goals and measures in place, GAO wants the agency to improve them to “align with key attributes of effective performance management.” GAO said the existing goals lack specificity and clearly defined targets – making it difficult to get the full story on the program’s success.
The watchdog agency said the FCC also needs to develop a plan to guide outreach efforts and improve its language translation process.
To reach eligible households with limited-English proficiency, the FCC translated the program’s outreach materials into other languages. However, GAO said the translations varied in quality and lacked clarity and completeness.
“Quality translations are key to informing eligible households with limited-English proficiency, which may include communities FCC has indicated are important to reach,” GAO said. “A comprehensive plan to guide its outreach efforts would help ensure funds dedicated to outreach are used most effectively.”
Another program area that needs improvement, according to the report, is fraud risk management. GAO said the FCC has taken some steps to address fraud – such as conducting a fraud risk assessment – but it has not developed an antifraud strategy, a process to conduct risk assessments regularly, or a process 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,” the report says. “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.”
GAO made nine recommendations to the FCC, including that the agency improve its program goals and measures, revise its language translation process, develop a consumer outreach plan, and develop and implement processes for managing fraud risks.
The FCC agreed with the report’s recommendations and outlined its plans to address each one.
Similarly, GAO also called on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) this week to develop comprehensive performance goals and measures, as well as a fraud risk assessment, for two of its own broadband programs.