IE 11 Not Supported

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

Federal Subsidy Vital to Internet Access, Users Say

A new survey of Affordable Connectivity Program users detailed the financial hardships recipients face in affording broadband, and found more than half access government services online.

A panoramic view of a row of electrical lines and towers stretching into the distance across a desert landscape.
Government Technology/David Kidd
Nearly 25 percent of households receiving a federal subsidy to purchase broadband Internet service will abandon that connection if Congress does not restore funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a new report shows.

The report, released Tuesday, surveyed more than 1,700 users of the ACP, a program enacted in 2021. In it, 58 percent of respondents said affording a broadband plan “is at least somewhat difficult” even with the ACP benefit, which can range from about $30 to $75 a month. Respondents were divided somewhat evenly by location, with 34 percent living in rural areas, 39 percent in urban areas and 27 percent in suburban areas.

The ACP helps to fund Internet access for about 23 million homes nationwide — roughly 1 in 6 households — and is set to expire in April. The program has generally garnered support across the political spectrum and is viewed as a crucial step forward in digital equity.

However, the political turbulence of the current year, and a regular drumbeat of government funding debates — each coming perilously close to shutting down the federal government — has left its future uncertain.

“We certainly think it’s appropriate that members of Congress are aware of the impact the ACP has had, and take into consideration the experiences of impacted, low-income households as they decide whether to extend the program,” said Justin King, policy director at Propel, a maker of technology aimed at low-income residents to help them better manage personal finances, and author of the report.

Uncertainty over the program’s future has stirred advocates to urge leaders to restore its funding, which is managed by the Federal Communications Commission. At a press conference on Feb. 13 in front of the U.S. Capitol building, James Gore, vice president of the National Association of Counties, highlighted broadband's essential role.

“As we know, Internet connectivity is absolutely foundational to the future of our society. Affordable access helps to ensure that we leave no family or individual behind in this increasingly connected world,” said Gore, a Sonoma County, Calif., supervisor.

Survey respondents affirmed using the Internet for essential services and tasks, with 53 percent reporting using it to access government services, 48 percent relying on the connectivity for online banking and 40 percent needing broadband for education purposes, according to the report. It found ACP participation grew nearly 30 percent in 2023 compared to the year before.

“We can't say with certainty what drove that surge,” said King. “We do know that awareness of the program took time to build, and we see a pretty clear relationship between growing awareness and higher enrollment.”

Conversations about the ACP are occurring as states release plans to expand broadband infrastructure via the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, part of infrastructure legislation signed into law two years ago, making some $42.45 billion available to expand broadband infrastructure.

The ACP has clearly revealed tremendous demand for affordable Internet services across the nation, regardless of whether people live in urban or rural areas, said King: “People enroll in the ACP to support their economic, educational, medical and social needs. There’s clearly a case for continued investment directed at connecting people to fast and affordable Internet services.”
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.