Passage of bipartisan legislation in Congress desperately needed to keep Affordable Connectivity Fund afloat

Unless Congress acts soon, a federal program that connects low-income Americans to the internet, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), will run out of money, and the fallout will not only impact millions of low-income internet users but the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that provide them service.

Bipartisan legislation, the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, that will provide $7 billion in funding has been introduced in Congress, but at least one analyst New Street Research’s Blair Levin gives the bill less than a 50 percent chance of passage before ACP completely runs out of funds this spring, according to a report in Fierce Telecom.

The loss of the program would hit rural internet subscribers and ISPs especially hard, said Steven J. Samara, President of the Pennsylvania Telephone Association (PTA), which represents the rural carriers, or RLECS.

“The loss of the ACP will be another in series of support mechanisms that the RLECs can no longer rely on to provide quality, affordable service in rural areas,” Samara said. “And without the RLECs many rural homes and businesses have no other options for service.”

Samara added that loss of the ACP will also stifle RLECs participation in a massive federal funding program aimed at providing every American with broadband access — the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

“Under BEAD, the states are required to outline low-cost options for consumers that will work best in conjunction with ACP,” Samara said.

Since the implementation of the ACP in January 2022, over 22.5 million households have utilized the program’s monthly discount of up to $30 for internet service, and up to $75 monthly for those living on Tribal lands, according to a statement released by members of Congress who signed onto the bill. The program has been utilized by over 800,000 veterans, one million college students, 3.1 million families with a K-12 student receiving free or reduced-price lunch, and 5 million seniors across the United States.

“Congress must engage to help bridge the digital divide among Americans and increase accessibility to reliable broadband for all of our communities,” Pennsylvania Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-01), one of the backers of the legislation, said in the statement. “The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) ensures that families in need have access to high-speed broadband, and I’m proud to join my colleagues on this bipartisan, bicameral bill to extend funding for this critical program.”