Broadband subsidy program that millions use will expire next year if Congress doesn’t act

by Ryan Lee
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Broadband Access

The impending expiration of a vital federal program underscores the challenges facing President Joe Biden’s goal of providing internet access to every American household and business by 2030. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a cornerstone of Biden’s plan, was established to ensure affordable broadband access for low-income families. However, this program, which has aided households with monthly subsidies ranging from $30 to $75, is slated to conclude next year, raising concerns about the future of affordable internet access for millions of people.

Despite its significance, the ACP has not achieved its full potential. Recent analysis by Big Big News reveals that less than 40% of eligible households have taken advantage of the program. This revelation underscores the urgency of the situation, as the ACP has proven indispensable for individuals like Kimberlyn Barton-Reyes, who rely on it for crucial services. For Barton-Reyes, who resides in Austin, Texas and faces physical challenges, reliable internet connectivity is not a luxury but a lifeline.

As Barton-Reyes can attest, the ACP has made a substantial difference in her life. She uses Social Security disability insurance for her income while participating in a vocational program. This assistance allows her to afford the internet connection that enables her to access essential services. She remains committed to helping others in her community access the program as well.

However, the ACP’s future hangs in the balance. With a projected depletion of its $14.2 billion funding allocation by mid-2024, there is growing concern that the program’s expiration could have far-reaching consequences. This is particularly troubling as it could impede the Biden administration’s mission to connect those who need the service most.

Drew Garner, broadband policy advisor for Common Sense Media, underscores the significance of the ACP, calling it an indispensable tool for ensuring affordable broadband access. Advocacy groups are urging Congress to extend the program, highlighting its success and untapped potential. Hernan Galperin, a University of Southern California professor who has researched the program, emphasizes that while the ACP has made strides, there’s more work to be done in making it universally available to all eligible individuals.

Disparities in enrollment exist across states, with approximately 30 states lagging behind the national average. Some states, like Louisiana and Ohio, have successfully enrolled more than half of eligible households. Even in states where the program is well-received, there’s an acknowledgment that its discontinuation would impact many. For example, Veneeth Iyengar, executive director of Louisiana’s broadband program, highlights the widespread benefit the ACP has brought.

The ACP’s origins lie in the pandemic era, initially serving around 9 million households. Over time, participation has grown, currently reaching about 20.4 million households. The potential loss of funding jeopardizes this progress, leaving communities that have come to rely on the program in a precarious situation.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasizes the value of the ACP, suggesting that its popularity could sway Congress to continue supporting the program. Despite political differences, bipartisan support exists for the ACP, aligning with Biden’s budget priorities.

The ACP’s possible expiration raises concerns about the relationship between consumers and internet service providers. At a time when the nation is striving to expand access to broadband services, uncertainty about the program’s future could erode trust and hinder progress. Joe Kane, director of broadband policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, stresses the potential long-term repercussions of not upholding promised programs.

President Biden’s pledge to allocate $42.5 billion for broadband access underscores the government’s commitment to bridging the digital divide. However, the program’s termination could not only make internet services less affordable for individuals but also discourage internet service providers from expanding their offerings. This two-fold impact underscores the urgency of congressional action to preserve the ACP.

In a letter from Biden’s budget director, Shalanda Young, to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the importance of affordable internet is underscored. The participation in the ACP transcends political boundaries, as millions of households across Democratic and Republican districts benefit from the program’s support.

For individuals like Joanne Soares of New Hampshire, the ACP has transformed their lives. Prior to the program, Soares and her school-age children relied on their phones for internet access. As a deaf individual, having a reliable internet connection allows her to access essential services, highlighting the critical nature of affordable internet access.

The impending expiration of the ACP serves as a reminder of the complex challenges in achieving nationwide broadband access. While progress has been made, sustaining momentum requires ongoing commitment from lawmakers and policymakers. The fate of the ACP hangs in the balance, with its continuation essential for bridging the digital divide and ensuring equitable access to essential services for all Americans.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Broadband Access

What is the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)?

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a federal initiative aimed at providing affordable broadband access to low-income households in the United States.

How does the ACP work?

The ACP offers monthly subsidies ranging from $30 to $75 to eligible households, helping them cover the costs of internet connections.

Why is the ACP important?

The ACP plays a crucial role in bridging the digital divide by ensuring that low-income families have access to essential online services, education, and communication.

What is the current status of ACP enrollment?

Recent analysis indicates that less than 40% of eligible households have utilized the ACP, pointing to untapped potential for reaching those who need it.

What challenges does the ACP face?

The primary challenge is the impending expiration of the program, as its funding is projected to run out by mid-2024, potentially leaving millions without affordable broadband access.

What impact could the ACP’s expiration have?

The expiration of the ACP could hinder the Biden administration’s efforts to provide universal internet access and damage the relationship between consumers and internet service providers.

Is there bipartisan support for the ACP?

Yes, lawmakers from both parties and the White House support the ACP, as it addresses a critical need for equitable access to essential services.

How does the ACP tie into broader connectivity goals?

The ACP aligns with President Biden’s plan to distribute $42.5 billion for broadband access, aiming to ensure connectivity for every American home and business.

What are the potential consequences of the ACP’s discontinuation?

The potential consequences include reduced affordability for individuals and diminished incentive for internet service providers to expand their offerings.

What can be done to preserve the ACP?

Advocacy groups are pushing Congress to extend the program’s funding, emphasizing its success and the need to continue closing the digital divide.

Who benefits from the ACP?

Individuals like Kimberlyn Barton-Reyes, who rely on the program for vital services, and Joanne Soares, a deaf individual accessing communication services, are among those benefitting from the ACP.

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