ACP Outreach Series: Eliminating Language Barriers and Developing Trusted Partnerships in Cuyahoga County, Ohio

By Brian Donoghue



The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a critical component of the nationwide effort to bridge the digital divide. Established on a bipartisan basis by Congress, the ACP provides subsidies that enable low-income households to get – and stay connected – with monthly broadband subscriptions. 

Despite its success in reaching over 35% of eligible households, the ACP faces a funding shortfall by 2024. Inadequate funding could not only jeopardize progress toward universal service goals but could also undermine the success of other federal broadband access initiatives that rely on the ACP to fill in adoption gaps.

This blog series will focus on local broadband leaders’ role in enhancing ACP outreach efforts. It will explore how they are working to promote affordable, high-speed internet access for all Americans, including strategies funded by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) ACP Outreach Grant Program.

Federal, state, and local resources are critical for supporting outreach programs and building public awareness. Still, even in areas where funding has been scarce or nonexistent, local leaders are working to build capacity and digital equity ecosystems. 

Cuyahoga County

Cuyahoga County, located in northeastern Ohio along Lake Erie, is home to the city of Cleveland and its surrounding suburbs. Community leaders have recognized the importance of closing the digital divide and made it a key priority. Initially ranked among the worst-connected large-metro areas in the country according to the American Communities Survey, the county has made significant progress, with the unconnected rate dropping from 18.6% in 2019 to 11.7% in 2021. 

Despite these hard-fought victories, approximately 1 in 8.5 households in Cuyahoga County still need an in-home internet connection. This means that thousands of households in the county still face digital access barriers, which can impact their ability to access important information, education, healthcare, and job opportunities.

ACP is a critical component of digital equity efforts in Cuyahoga County, providing low-cost or no-cost home internet to eligible households. Leveraging existing public and private sector partnerships, the County developed a targeted outreach campaign that focuses on 13 zip codes chosen based on current ACP enrollment figures and the percentage of disconnected households. The full-blown campaign will utilize various outreach techniques, including direct mailings, radio advertisements, and print advertisements on buses, billboards, and at school sporting events. 

A unique feature of the County’s strategy involves collaborating with Global Cleveland, a non-profit organization committed to assisting international newcomers, to determine the predominant non-English languages spoken across the community. The collaboration motivated the County to translate all ACP documents into the six most widely spoken languages in its communities: Arabic, Chinese, Nepali, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian. Doing so ensures that all residents, regardless of language, have access to information about the ACP.

Trusted partnerships are critical for informing residents about their eligibility. Cuyahoga County will work with community organizations and groups that already have relationships with residents in the targeted ZIP codes, ensuring that effective messages reach people in need. Additionally, the County will use in-person events supported by the Greater Cleveland Digital Navigators to build public awareness.

The Greater Cleveland Digital Navigators Program is central to the County’s digital inclusion efforts. It houses digital navigators across ten agencies in the County, whose goal is to assist residents with finding affordable access, devices, and digital skills training while addressing other broadband adoption barriers. Once residents are aware of the program, they can work with digital navigators on completing the enrollment process, as well as any of their other digital inclusion needs. The County’s three library systems, the regional housing authority, and the numerous local community development corporations also have indispensable roles in promoting the ACP and reducing barriers to enrollment. 

Direct mail, strategic advertising, and the valuable support of digital navigators are key elements of a campaign that will connect hundreds of thousands of low-income residents with the digital resources they need. By aligning with trusted entities and facilitating personalized assistance, Cuyahoga County’s strategy promises a substantial increase in ACP enrollment and a more digitally inclusive future for Ohio.

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