IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

With the ACP Winding Down, Advocates Tout Its Value

April is the last month of full funding for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which helps subsidize monthly Internet service for low-income households. Advocates hope it will be reauthorized.

A virtual environment with a web of points connecting the data.
As the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) winds down, federal officials are hopeful Congress will reauthorize funding for the widely popular project that helps subsidize monthly Internet service for low-income households.

“This program is making a difference. It really is unique, and very important,” said Alejandro Roark, chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), on Wednesday during the 2024 Bipartisan Tech Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The event was organized by municipality and broadband advocacy group Next Century Cities.

The cost of monthly Internet service is the “No. 1 most cited barrier to adoption, across the country,” Roark said — not for its lack of value, but simply because of high prices.

The ACP, which provides a subsidy of $30 to $75 a month for broadband and helps fund Internet access in more than 22 million homes nationwide, is expected to run out of money in May. Supporters and broadband advocates have urged Congress to approve the ACP Extension Act, which would provide $7 billion to continue funding the program, which is often characterized as having broad bipartisan support.

The program is often cited as a success story for enabling broadband equity across the country. Roark said it “has accomplished more over the course of the past two years to bridge our country’s digital opportunity divide than any other stand-alone effort in our nation’s history.”

Families still have access to Lifeline, an FCC program providing up to a $9.25 monthly discount on service for eligible low-income subscribers, and up to $34.25 per month for eligible subscribers on tribal lands. To qualify, participants must have an income at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty level, or participate in other assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Consumer-focused, broadband-related public policy is also at the core of initiatives like new “nutrition labels” required by companies offering broadband subscriptions. The labels are a way for Internet providers to easily communicate the speed of the service, data allowances, cost — including any fees — and performance metrics.

“And that is game-changing. All of us have had the experience of shopping for broadband, where we see the marketing materials ... and then we get our first bill, and it’s completely different than what we thought we were going to pay,” Roark said. “This makes consumer choice a lot easier, because we have consistent facts about what we can expect to pay, up front.”

Perhaps the most sizable effort at expanding broadband equity is the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD), a more than $42 billion effort by the federal government to incentivize the development of broadband infrastructure in unserved areas. Part of this effort has been the formation of the National Broadband Map, an interactive nationwide map showing where broadband service is lacking. It was last updated in November and will next be refreshed in June.

The FCC is now conducting verification audits of provider-reported data. More than 900 challenges have been filed reporting inaccurate data, resulting in “hundreds of corrections to the data,” said Hayley Steffen, legal adviser for wireline and space to FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez, speaking at the conference.

“It’s an iterative process, and data is constantly improving,” said Steffen. “It can just be a really powerful tool to show, visually, where communities are served, and where they’re not.

“For the first time ever, we can go to the map, on the website, type in our address, and see exactly what speeds, what services providers claim are available to you,” she said, adding that users can, in the same window, report data inaccuracies — and submit a challenge.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.