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Rural Communities in New York Brace for the End of the ACP

Nearly 100,000 Erie County residents, and millions more in rural communities nationwide, will lose low-cost Internet service if Congress fails to reauthorize the Affordable Connectivity Program in the coming months.

An aerial view of Montour Falls, N.Y., a small historic village in upstate New York.
An aerial view of Montour Falls, N.Y., a small historic village in upstate New York.
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(TNS) — Nearly 100,000 Erie County residents, and millions more in rural communities nationwide, will lose low-cost internet service if Congress fails to reauthorize the Affordable Connectivity Program by April.

"Fast, reliable Internet is no longer a luxury — it is a necessity for everyday life," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Friday morning during a visit to the Central Library in Buffalo.

More than 1.7 million New York households benefit from the program, which helps low-income households afford high-speed Internet.

That number includes more than 97,000 Erie County residents, Gillibrand said.

Congress must provide more funding, she said, or families supported by the program will be forced to pay full price to stay online or lose broadband services.

The Covid-19 pandemic and changes it left in its wake made reauthorization vital in a new American climate where more people work remotely, take online educational courses and handle many of their health care needs online, she said.

"I'm announcing this legislation to allocate more money for the ACP and help close the digital divide," said the New York Democrat, who supported the original legislation during the pandemic as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed in November 2021.

The program offers a discount of up to $30 per month on Internet service and equipment, as well as a onetime $100 discount on a laptop, desktop computer or tablet. The discount can climb to $75 monthly for qualifying rural communities, and for Tribal lands, the discount may be up to $75 per month.

"The ACP was borne out of the pandemic, and now that the crisis seems to have subsided, everyone thinks the problems it highlighted have gone away, too," said Heidi Ziemer, outreach and digital equity coordinator of the Western New York Library Resources Council. "But digital distress was a reality for many New Yorkers long before the pandemic, and was not created from it."

Ziemer attended the news conference, along with Melissa Hartman, executive director of ErieNet; Jeannine Purtell, chief operating officer with the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System; and Amy Mazur, director of operations for Literacy Buffalo Niagara.

"Students now can complete schoolwork outside of classrooms, seniors can participate in telehealth from the comforts of their homes and working families can expand their job searches to include work-from-home options," Hartman said.

Gillibrand's appearance in Buffalo coincided with an announcement of a $150,000 grant by the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York to support efforts by the state Association for Rural Health.

More than 100 organizational members, including 31 rural health networks across New York, make up the nonprofit association.

The Health Foundation grant flows from the $9 million MacKenzie Scott — who helped Jeff Bezos create Amazon — bestowed on it in October 2022 to help strengthen its work with racial and health inequities.

The foundation has adjusted its mission in recent years to address the lack of health resources based on race and economics, including disparities that fall along racial lines in most urban communities they serve, as well as challenges in rural areas where the rates of uninsured people are among the highest in the state, and most of the counties face critical shortages of health care providers.

Combined, health challenges and outcomes in these communities make Western New York the least healthy region in the state.

©2024 The Buffalo News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.