Home Internet A connectivity program that brought internet to 23 million rural and poor households is ending

A connectivity program that brought internet to 23 million rural and poor households is ending

A federal program that allowed 23 million low-income and rural households to afford internet connection will soon come to an end due to lack of funds. Advocates worry the progress made by the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to decrease the digital divide may unravel unless it is extended.

The ACP was created in 2021 by the Biden-Harris Administration and funded for five years through a $14.2 billion allocation. ACP Recipients received discounts of up to $30 a month ($75 for those living on tribal lands) to pay for internet service. Full funding only lasted to the end of April due to high demand, with partial continuation of the program expected through May, albeit with reduced benefits.

Households would receive $14 or $35 instead of the full $30-75 reduction unless Congress extends funding.

“It should be beyond question at this point that internet access is essential,” said Raza Panjwani, a senior policy council for the nonprofit think tank New America. “Just as we’re making progress on these fronts, we’re about to give up all the gains we’ve made in addressing the persistent problem of the cost of connectivity that keeps fast, reliable and essential internet access out of reach for so many. It’s a travesty.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, government officials, politicians and hundreds of organizations have called upon Congress to provide more funding for the program by passing the Affordable Connectivity Extension Act of 2024, a measure introduced in January that would allocate $7 billion to continue running ACP without disruptions through the end of the year. The bill has stalled in the Senate.

Advocates said digital connectivity is vital to access education, healthcare, critical government services and to stay in touch with friends and family. Marginalized people, like those who identify as LGBTQ+, use the internet to build community. Others use it to find information and to express their right to free speech.

“We in this country ignore the reality of how hard it is to be poor,” Vermont Sen. Peter Welch, one of six legislators who introduced the bipartisan extension act, said during a rally organized by Public Knowledge and Broadband Breakfast on Tuesday. “The difficult choices, the anxiety of bills, the shame of not being able to get your son or daughter a new pair of shoes, the trauma of not knowing whether you’ll be able to put food on the table — that’s the reality of life for a lot of Americans.”

The program serves 1 in 6 American homes, according to the White House. Households already eligible for Medicaid, food stamps and Pell grants, and those below 200 percent of the federal poverty line qualified to receive the monthly benefit.

Senior citizens, veterans, school children, Black, Latine and Indigenous people and those living in rural or tribal areas would be most impacted by the program’s end, according to the Federal Communications Commision (FCC). Officials said some families will need to decide what expenses they can cut, including food and gas, to keep their broadband service.

Reliable high-speed internet is a necessity, with some arguing that online access is a human right. Yet, many communities across the U.S. do not have adequate infrastructure to get connected or are prevented from obtaining services due to high costs. According to New America, U.S. broadband subscription prices are among the highest in the world, with the average American home paying about $84 a month.

According to the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, 18 million homes – or 47 million people – are offline because they can’t afford an internet connection. They make up nearly two-thirds of the country’s digital divide.

According to a FCC survey released in February, more than two-thirds of households enrolled in ACP had inconsistent or no internet connectivity before enrolling in the program. Eighty percent said subscription prices were the largest detriment and 77 percent said they would experience significant disruptions if ACP ends. Respondents said they would have to “take money from other bills” or go without internet service.

According to the White House, nearly half of the households that benefit from ACP are military families and about 14 million beneficiaries are over the age of 50.

Other benefits provided by the program include the ability to obtain broadband services regardless of credit status and prior debts. It also prevented internet service providers from forcing eligible ACP recipients into more expensive or lower quality plans and protected customers from early termination fees.

“Without this critical program, we’ll see school kids doing homework in the parking lots of fast food restaurants again, seniors living in rural areas won’t be able to access essential health services and economic productivity will slow,” Amy Huffman, the policy director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), said.

Though advocates believe there is still time to fund ACP, others are preparing for the transition.

The NDIA maintains a webpage detailing information for low-cost internet plans across the U.S. The FCC has a “wind-down” fact sheet with information about program recipient’s rights, including that ACP internet companies cannot end service for failure to pay until 90 days have passed after the bill due date.



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