Across the country, affordable internet coverage is difficult to pin down for many residents. Families who can’t afford market-rate internet are unable to engage in digital activities such as remote work, virtual learning, and telehealth visits. Often unaware of providers, let alone what discounts are available, residents are left behind because of the sheer lack of understanding of where to turn for help.
Years ago, in order to assist its residents in finding reliable and affordable internet, the State of Wisconsin Public Service Commission designed an Internet Discount Finder to help Wisconsinites find the right internet service provider (ISP) at the lowest rates quickly - but it wasn’t helping users in the ways they had hoped. Navigating the range of affordable internet plan options, associated eligibility, and documentation requirements is incredibly complex for residents to figure out. What’s more, internal staff capacity was already maxed out in terms of updating the tool. As such, the existing tool wasn’t meeting its goal to help raise awareness of relevant government programs offering discounts and connecting residents to the right service.
As Wisconsin searched for a partner to help them improve their tool, they learned about U.S. Digital Response (USDR) through the National Broadband Resource Hub.
USDR’s team took the time to listen to their goals and provide honest feedback about the limitations of their current tool. This consultative approach built trust and helped define a reasonable scope of work. Wisconsin hoped USDR could provide the technical expertise needed to create an elegant, easy to use tool grounded in user needs.
USDR focused first on revamping the user experience and usability of the tool based on research. It quickly became clear that the best role for USDR was not to directly build the new tool for Wisconsin, but rather to make design, technology, and accessibility recommendations based on user research and user feedback on wireframe prototypes. These recommendations and prototypes helped inform the scope of procurement to hire the right vendor to develop the front-end and back-end of the new site.
USDR brought best practices like user testing, accessible design, and iterative prototyping to ensure the tool would meet resident needs. The team regularly incorporated feedback from changing federal and state broadband programs.
After user testing, the most significant changes were:
- Visual breakup of Home Page steps
- “What are these programs?” Button
- Streamlined Help Sections
- Adding context around ACP on the Results Page
"There’s a huge need for the families of Wisconsin to find affordable internet. Broadband is rapidly moving forward, and there’s an incredible need for Broadband Offices to find service providers and understand pricing. The USDR team really helped us think about how the landscape is changing, and helped people think about how the landscape was changing underneath us. It was really useful to have their expertise."
This successful partnership helped inform an improved internet affordability tool customized for Wisconsin. Launched in July 2023, the tool provides the most accurate internet availability and pricing information. The research-driven design empowers residents to find relevant discounts and affordable options. Users simply enter their address and identify their eligibility criteria and the tool will then display the plans that are available and explain the next steps for enrolling in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Through the ACP, eligible households can get a discount of $30-$75 off of their monthly internet bill.
Wisconsin now has an effective tool to increase internet accessibility and further its vision of digital equity. The partnership with USDR brought the right expertise at the right time to bridge the digital divide.