The future of affordable internet access is in jeopardy for millions of Americans, which may get hit with higher bills in the next few months.
The Affordable Connectivity Program, which helps more than 20 million U.S. households pay their internet bills, is due to run out of money by April. By the projected expiration date, the ACP will have over three million more people enrolled.
The ACP provides a $30 monthly discount towards internet service for eligible, low-income households and a $75 monthly discount to households on qualifying tribal lands. The program also offers a one-time discount of up to $100 towards a computer, laptop or tablet purchase.
Without a cash influx, those enrolled in the program will no longer receive the discounts. This means paying full price for the internet or losing access completely. Not having internet access can cripple a household. In today’s digital world, dozens of aspects of daily life require connectivity.
The ACP had bipartisan support when it first launched as emergency pandemic relief, but its origin also means the program has no long-term funding plan. This has led to partisan disagreements about the program’s future.
Some industry sources doubt the ACP will be included in spending bills passed by the Republican-controlled House, according to Light Reading. The House is working on passing an emergency aid package in support of Ukraine, Israel and border security. The Democrat-controlled Senate is unlikely to hold up the package to negotiate the ACP, according to the report.
Despite the lack of Congressional agreement, the program has other vocal supporters.
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has been urging Congress to renew funding.
“I strongly support funding the Affordable Connectivity Program into the future to help more families get and stay connected to the high-speed internet they need to participate in modern life,” Rosenworcel said in December.
President Joe Biden, USTelecom, NCTA, and the Rural Broadband Association have also asked Congress to allocate $6 billion toward the ACP. The funds would keep the programming running through December 2024.
“[T]oo often, high costs create a barrier and tens of millions of families, students, and seniors are left without access to high-speed internet, or have to sacrifice other necessities to pay their internet bill, exacerbating underlying inequities,” the White House said in a release.