Disconnected and Disregarded: Attempting to Measure Latinx Enrollment in the EBB

Whether in media, history textbooks, or even leadership positions, Latinx voices have often been left out throughout U.S. history. This lack of representation has harmful and dangerous consequences for the Latinx community, as our needs and experiences are overlooked. A major source of this marginalization is data collection. For decades, the Census was inaccurate and complicated regarding Latinx populations, which created a gap in cohesive data to track our community. Consistency and transparency in data collection is critical to determine congressional representation, allocation of funding, and resources for research. By only supplying general population data, some federal programs and resources fail to adequately meet the needs of diverse populations, as a result of agencies’ reluctance to use data to identify, measure, and address the barriers that Latinx and marginalized communities face. This lack of specific effects on the Latinx community, and other communities of color, leads to flawed perceptions of a program’s success, and makes it impossible to improve programs to fit each community’s unique needs.

Just this year, the historical Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program–which provides low-income households with a low-cost broadband option–launched across the country. While the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) did begin to release enrollment data for the program in early July, the figures published did not provide any demographic insights. General participation rates of the program may be useful in determining overall progress, but without demographic data, it is unclear whether the temporary benefit is fairly supporting all eligible households.

Part of our mission at NHMC is to highlight and end this unacceptable exclusion of Latinx communities. In keeping with this mission, our policy team came together to attempt to uncover the real impact of the EBB program for eligible Latinx households. As history has proven, racial disparities exist in most systems, and broadband access is no different.

Methodology
To capture the EBB’s success rate among the Latinx population, our team calculated the percentage of eligible Latinx households that had successfully enrolled in the EBB program. However, as with most data analysis regarding the Latinx population, we came across several barriers:

  • First, the initial enrollment data released by the FCC was only provided at the state and ZIP-3 level. A ZIP-3 is similar to a typical five-digit ZIP code, except it covers a larger territory, as it includes all zip codes starting with the same three digits. Unfortunately, this data does not accurately align with county or city borders, and makes it difficult to conduct our research at this level. Ultimately, we had to limit the scope of our analysis by making conclusions at the state level only.

 

  • When trying to calculate the number of Latinx households that are eligible for the EBB, as well as the number of successfully enrolled Latinx households, we were unsuccessful. This data is extremely hard to analyze, and/or may not even be available to the general public. The data published by the FCC provided a total figure of enrolled households, but failed to reveal what percentage were Latinx. While this lack of data made our analysis more complicated, we were able to move forward with an estimated analysis.

 

  • To substitute these numbers, our team used the Latinx population percentage in each state, to proportionally determine approximately how many of the EBB enrolled households were of Latinx origin. Then, using census demographic data on the number of households that live 135% below the poverty line, we deduced an approximate number of Latinx households that are eligible for the EBB program. It should be noted that there are multiple qualifications for EBB, and, while the poverty line limitation is only one of these qualifications, our team decided that it was one of the most influential and all-encompassing.

Having collected these estimates, our findings provide a brief insight into the enrollment rate and impact of the program on Latinx communities. However, until this data can be updated with more accurate data from federal agencies, such as the FCC, these estimated results should be viewed with caution.

 

Findings
We limited our analysis to 11 states, chosen based on their significant Latinx populations: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas. Of these 11 states, New Jersey has the lowest estimated percentage of eligible Latinx households enrolled (2.21 percent) and the worst enrollment rate, while Nevada had the highest estimated percentage of eligible Latinx households enrolled (8.26 percent) and best enrollment rate.

While Nevada’s estimated enrollment rate is over six percent higher than New Jersey’s, the overall enrollment rate for the EBB program is far from ideal. A recent analysis conducted by Benton used similar data, and found that one in twelve, or eight percent, of all eligible households were enrolled in the EBB program in July 2021. Our findings suggest that Latinx households still fall behind this general population enrollment rate in most states.

Taking our analysis a step further, our team decided to evaluate the success of the pre-existing Lifeline program within Latinx communities. Similar to EBB, Lifeline has provided discounts on phone services for low-income consumers. However, the Lifeline program was created in1985, making it a more permanent and stable benefit than the EBB program. Despite Lifeline’s 36 year lifespan, the FCC has yet to release any demographic data for this program as well, meaning these neglectful data collection practices and lack of transparency have been ongoing for decades.

Because of this, our Lifeline Latinx enrollee analysis required a similar estimation methodology as the EBB data analysis. After calculating these estimates and applying it to our participation rate equation, we found that like EBB, Lifeline enrollment rates for eligible Latinx households remain low. While Latinx Lifeline rates may appear to be significantly higher than those of EBB, there is still a major underperformance, with the worst performing of the 11 examined states having only a 17.3 percent participation rate. We must keep in mind that Lifeline has had a longer existence than EBB and greater advertising efforts over the years, which is likely the reason for the higher, yet unsatisfactory, participation rates.

It’s important to note that some of our estimated calculations assumed that the number of Latinx households successfully enrolled in EBB and Lifeline are proportional to the state’s Latinx population. However, it is highly unlikely that this is the case and in fact fewer Latinx households have successfully enrolled in the program.

 

Recommendations
The recent release of 2020 Census data revealed a 23 percent increase in the Latinx population and a 9.5 percent increase in Latinx youth over the last decade. As the nation’s second largest population that accounted for over half of the nation’s growth, these results only further certify the need for our government to adequately account for the needs and rights of the Latinx community. Additionally, a larger school-aged Latinx youth population suggests greater needs for home broadband access. Currently, over a third of Latinx do not have access to the internet at home. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 55 percent of Latinx households lacked the ability to afford adequate broadband services for home usage. With a disproportionate number of Latinx households facing broadband challenges, programs like EBB have great potential to change these concerning facts.

However, without knowing whether or not the benefit is currently adequately reaching the Latinx community, agencies are ill-positioned to make necessary equitable decisions about the program and its future. While these new figures above give us a peek into the imperfections of the EBB program, our analysis left our team unsatisfied with the current available data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the FCC. NHMC believes the FCC has a duty to provide this crucial demographic data on federal programs such as the EBB, and the agency should make this type of information publicly available as soon as possible. Without this statistically significant data, advocacy efforts are made more difficult as organizations cannot see the full picture of the EBB’s impact on the digital divide in our communities. With the Senate’s recent passing of H.R. 3684, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes a more long-standing EBB program known as the Affordable Connectivity Fund, this information will prove to be extremely valuable in the coming months as the program undergoes changes.

NHMC strongly urges the FCC to commit to collecting, analyzing, and releasing more meaningful demographic data, particularly for the EBB program and its future iterations.

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