Effective Advertising - FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and Lifeline


Broadband adoption in the United States has historically been limited by the availability of infrastructure (particularly in rural / high cost areas) and by affordability.  Several federal programs address the issue of affordability.  The Lifeline program, established in 1985, provides a monthly discount of $9.25 to qualifying applicants.  The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP), established under the American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress in January of 2021, provides a subsidy of $50.00 per month but is in the process of sunsetting along with other pandemic-related aid.  The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), authorized under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), provides $30 per month of subsidy, subject to the limitations of program funding ($14.2 billion).

Each program includes equipment subsidies as well as significantly enhanced benefits in tribal areas.

The Challenge:

The Lifeline program and the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program have enrolled only a modest portion of eligible households in part because of limited public awareness and the difficulty of reaching eligible households. 

Many broadband providers servicing rural and / or low income areas have very specific geographic footprints.  In advertising they need to match the geographic footprint of their advertising to the geographic footprint of their network, in addition to tailoring advertising to reflect the cultural and language differences of specific communities.  Finally, since the target audience tends to have poor broadband connectivity, advertising via social media – which has increasingly replaced many other forms of advertising – may be difficult.

Above: differences in eligibility, based on specific criteria, within each ZIP code area.

The Advertising Solution

An advertising solution that could surgically target small geographical areas (aligning with an ISP’s coverage footprint) with culturally and language-specific content is desirable.  Ideally such a solution would further focus advertising on small geographic areas (fractions of a census tract) that are rich in qualified applicants.

The United States Postal Service offers a service called Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) that delivers printed material to every household within a carrier route.  There are a large number of carrier routes within each ZIP code.

CBRSToolkit.com (this website) has developed a set of tools that match carrier route data to qualifying criteria for each of these programs.  These tools enable a telecommunications provider to surgically target advertising to those households that meet the qualifying requirements.  The result is an advertising optimization tool that enables precise targeting of advertisements by broadband providers, local and state governments, and digital divide oriented not-for-profits.

CBRSToolkit.com has established a relationship with one of the largest EDDM providers (printing and mailing physical flyers) to provide a simple turnkey solution that enables the advertiser to:

  1. Identify a geographic area of interest (e.g. a state or county)
  2. Choose the preferred eligibility criteria (food stamps, Medicaid, family income, or a blend of qualifying criteria) to optimize the campaign.
  3. Choose between surgical precision (spectacularly cost effective) and geographic reach (up to 100% of households).
  4. Refine the resulting map, if desired, to include only those geographic area covered by the telecommunication's provider's network.
  5. Upload a full-color advertising creative as a PDF.
  6. Choose a printing / delivery schedule.
  7. Enroll eligible households as they respond.

Getting Started

You can be up and running in a few easy steps:

  1. Register for free to access campaign design resources.
  2. Visualize (maps) and price potential advertising campaigns, using ACP / EBBP / Lifeline optimized tools, with the assistance of a highly trained staff. 
  3. Manage your campaign resources (editing maps and fine-tuning campaign details) in an online portal prior to launching your first campaign.
  4. Choose a format for the flyer based upon price and potential impact.
  5. Develop a full color advertisement that meets USPS specifications (link to templates) with your unique message.
  6. Run a pilot in a small geographic area for as little as $1,000. 
  7. Launch a “serious” campaign, based on the success of the pilot.

Allow us to give you a demonstration.  We’re here to help (e-mail, phone: 415-346-5393).

A Case Study

Consider a hypothetical broadband provider serving Jefferson County, Alabama.  Jefferson has a population of 674,721, based on the 2020 census.  Residential mailboxes (single family homes plus multi-tenant dwellings, including rural routes) total 293,568.  In addition, there are residential and business post office boxes and businesses with physical locations.  These additional categories can be added, if desired.

Across the county 98,231 households (33.5% of the total) qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), based on household income (< 200% of the poverty threshold) alone.  Additional households are likely to qualify based upon other criteria, such as SNAP / food stamps.  Advertising can be targeted based upon a single criterion or based upon a blend of criteria.  The advertisement itself can highlight a particular criterion because it will be delivered disproportionately to neighborhoods rich in that qualifying criterion.

The price per postcard reflects the size of the postcard and the total volume.  It doesn’t matter where (which state, county) the postcards are delivered.  The price per postcard, including printing and postage (delivery via EDDM), is a fraction of the cost of a first class stamp alone.  In the example below 6.29" x 9" postcards (a popular size) are printed and delivered for $.32 a piece:

 Here is a quick summary of the data for Jefferson County, Alabama, assuming the optimization criterion is household income:


The circled numbers reflect a campaign that optimally targets the most eligible 30% of households.  It generates a “matching list” of ZIP codes and carrier routes:


This list of eligible geographies can be edited then copied and pasted into a cloud-based mapping tool.  A broadband provider might edit the list to remove ZIP codes outside of its physical coverage area:


The map can be named.  It can later be edited and/or merged with other maps in developing a comprehensive campaign.  Finally, the user might choose to include digital advertising based on Google or Facebook account or using e-mail address associated with those specific carrier routes:


The map can be further edited by hand, turning individual carrier routes on and off.  Finally other deliver options (post office boxes and businesses) can be enabled and other forms of location-specific digital advertising can be enabled, if desired.


In developing specific advertisements the advertiser might choose to serve the same area in a couple of different languages or might choose to do an initial broad advertisement followed by much more intense advertising over a very highly targeted subset of that geography.  The advertiser might also choose to run ads highlighting different eligibility criteria.

These tools provide an alternative to traditional mass media advertising, such as radio and television, for building awareness of affordable broadband programs.  They also allow for a nearly unlimited degree of customization of the advertising message.  Finally, they provide an effective means of reaching those who have little or no broadband connectivity.