FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program dangles by a financial thread

On the wrong side of the digital divide in America? The clock is ticking

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warns it will start winding down the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) unless more funds are released to keep it going.

Funds are expected to run out by May, meaning that only months remain before the plug is pulled on the benefit, and US households that rely on it are potentially cut off from the internet.

According to the FCC, the ACP was launched on December 31, 2021, and was intended to "close the digital divide" by bringing more US households online. A discount of up to $30 a month on internet service was on offer to eligible households – up to $75 per month for eligible households on qualifying Tribal Lands – and a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a computer, as long as the household contributed more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.

To date, nearly 23 million households have enrolled in the program, with the uptake highest in rural areas.

The FCC did not put a figure on how many US households would lose connectivity when the program ends but said that 1,700 internet service providers would be affected and it "may cut off service to households no longer supported by the program."

In a letter sent to the US Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel warned of the steps that would be taken if more funding is not made available.

First, guidance will be issued regarding timing to prevent households from getting a fright when their bill goes up. Then a date must be decided for when new enrolments will stop. Finally, the FCC will need to formally set the end date for the program itself.

Some $6 billion is required to keep the program running until the end of 2024. $14.2 billion was appropriated in 2021.

Rosenworcel also argued that the loss of the program "would undermine the historic $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, for which the ACP supports a stable customer base to help incentivize deployment in rural areas."

Several US governors have expressed alarm at the impending end of the program. In a letter sent to lawmakers [PDF] in 2023, the governors noted the importance of the program and said: "It is essential that people do not lose access to the internet that this vital program has allowed them to gain." ®

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