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Time Is Ticking on the Affordable Connectivity Program

The Affordable Connectivity Program will likely run out of funding in 2024 if no action is taken to sustain it. Experts held a congressional briefing this week to discuss what the end of the program might mean.

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Shutterstock/Sergii Gnatiuk
As an end of Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) funding looms, a congressional briefing was held this week to discuss what an end to the program could mean and its importance for achieving digital equity.

The ACP is a Federal Communications Commission benefit program that provides households with a discount of up to $30 per month toward Internet service, and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands. And although less than 40 percent of eligible households have enrolled in the program thus far, stakeholders argue that it is crucial to achieving digital equity. That’s why a group of over 200 organizations signed a letter supporting continued funding.

Estimates from the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation predict that ACP funding will run out in 2024 if action is not taken to re-fund the program. If and when it does, many people will no longer be able to afford Internet service they likely have come to rely on.

This was the topic of discussion during the congressional briefing hosted this week by Next Century Cities: Local Success Stories and the Evolving Potential of the ACP.

During the event, Doug McCollough, CIO for the city of Dublin, Ohio, underlined that while there are aspects of the program that could be improved upon, its impact cannot be ignored.

“I definitely want to unambiguously advocate for continuation of the program and strengthening of the program,” he stated.

The existence of the ACP allows governments to pursue other grant opportunities that supplement this program, funding which would not be obtainable in the program’s absence, he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed during the panel discussion by Khotan Harmon, senior program manager of telecommunications and regulatory affairs in the Financial Services Department for the city of Austin, Texas.

She stated that this program is not a permanent solution, but for the time being, its continuation is necessary support for those households and communities who are most vulnerable.

In spite of the broader acknowledgment that the ACP is not the permanent solution, experts agree that it is one that has changed the lives of those who are participating.

Kenya Asli, interim director of broadband and digital equity in the Office of Information Technology for the city of Baltimore, Md., explained that the program has opened doors to the digital economy for folks who have historically not had equitable access to high-speed, affordable Internet service.

Ryan Collins, program manager for the Buckeye Hills Regional Council, also noted that beyond the ability to participate in the digital economy, for the rural communities he works with, the ACP has enabled access to telehealth services. In communities where there are only four doctors for every 100,000 patients, he said, this access goes beyond convenience.

“What the ACP means to our communities is everything,” stated Collins.


McCollough explained that the program depends on building trust and credibility with constituents participating in it.

The populations who could benefit most from a federal subsidy program like this may initially be suspicious of government programs, and as such, government agencies have worked diligently with trusted community organizations to increase awareness and enrollment. Trust building has been one of the slower pieces of enacting the program, but it is one in which agencies have invested significant time and energy.

Agencies and organizations that have been encouraging households to enroll will put their credibility on the line, he said.

Harmon cited similar concerns, noting that agencies are leveraging a lot of goodwill and trust they have built with their communities to increase enrollment, arguing that this program is something that will benefit constituents. If the funding runs out, people will be “literally stranded.” For participating Internet service providers there is a similar concern, as they would like to have predictable revenue sources, Harmon added.

Some challenges with the program that were brought up during the event included the limited capacity of small Internet service providers in meeting the federal reporting requirements, as well as the risk of fraudulent actors sharing misleading ACP enrollment information.

However, all the speakers agreed that it is currently a critical piece of serving some of their most vulnerable constituents.

Looking forward, as states prepare to deploy the $42.45 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program funding, building fiber will be an expensive effort that falls short if individuals are not able to afford service: “So, my big takeaway for you all is that it is fiscally irresponsible to not continue funding the ACP.”
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.