America's broadband bill subsidy runs out of money and halts enrollments
Program that gets the hard-up online needs money by May
The US Federal Communications Commission will not accept new signups by folks for its subsidized internet broadband program after Thursday, as it’s running out of money to fund the initiative.
Under the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), some low-income households are eligible to receive a discount on their internet bills, plus money to put towards purchasing a laptop or tablet. The FCC pays up to $30 per month for internet service for qualifying homes, and up to $75 for residents living on recognized tribal lands. The ACP supports approximately 23 million households, or around one in six US homes.
The program’s purpose is to help people afford broadband and computing devices so they can access the online resources needed for work, school, and other essentials of daily life. But it can no longer take on new applicants as government funding has run dry.
"The Affordable Connectivity Program will stop accepting new applications and enrollments on February 7, 2024. Consumers must be approved and enrolled with a service provider 2359 ET on February 7 to receive the ACP benefit," the agency has advised.
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The FCC only has enough money to keep supporting households fully until April, and will only be able to provide limited assistance in May unless Congress steps in with fresh funds.
Lawmakers are trying to keep the ACP afloat. Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, a bipartisan bill that would provide $7 billion if it was approved by Congress, last month. On Tuesday, the White House urged Congress to pass the legislation quickly to continue subsidizing internet services.
"In the 21st century, affordable, reliable high-speed internet is critical in order to access education, healthcare, and work, engage in precision agriculture, and keep in touch with loved ones. Still, too many are left without high-speed internet because they lack the infrastructure or are inhibited by high costs," the Biden-Harris administration argued in a statement.
"In particular, these inequities impact underserved communities, rural communities, veterans, and older Americans where the lack of affordable, reliable high-speed internet contributes to significant economic, health and other disparities."
Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC's chair, warned Congress to pass the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act or risk cutting off broadband access to millions of families.
"We have successfully connected millions upon millions of households to broadband services. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law established a historic and unquestionably successful program to make broadband affordable, and we now appear on the brink of letting that success slip away," she has previously said [PDF].
"Disconnecting millions of families from their jobs, schools, markets, and information is not the solution. We have come too far with the ACP to turn back." ®