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Impact will be far-reaching — including local
High-speed internet connectivity was once considered a novelty or luxury item but has transformed into an essential household utility. Affordable, reliable, high-speed internet is critical in order to access education, healthcare, work, and recreation sources.
President Joe Biden’s ‘Investing in America’ program proved beneficial to many American families suffering financial challenges in a post-COVID world. An important component of ‘Bidenomics,” The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provided subsidies that allowed eligible low-income and poverty-level households to have access to internet connectivity solutions that had previously been out of reach due to cost.
According to a fact sheet distributed by the White House, because the Biden-Harris Administration worked with internet providers, many high-speed internet plans are fully funded for eligible households. It is estimated that 23 million households–including more than 394,000 Missouri households–currently participate in the ACP and save anywhere from $30 to $75 on their monthly internet bills. The fact sheet asserts that:
– Nearly half of the households benefitting from ACP are military families.
– Four million seniors and 10 million Americans over the age of 50 benefit from this program every month.
– One in every four households participating in the ACP is African American, and one in four households is Latino.
– The ACP provides an enhanced monthly subsidy to 320,000 households on Tribal lands, where high-speed internet is generally more expensive.
On Jan. 11, the Federal Communications Communication (FCC) announced that funding for the ACP would be exhausted by April’s end or sometime in May, and without intervention from Congress in the form of supplemental funding, the program would close. If the program sunsets, those 23 million American households who currently rely on the subsidy may lose the ability to have internet connectivity in their homes due to economic distress. The effects of connectivity loss are potentially devastating. There are no replacement programs to fill the gap if the ACP becomes extinct.
The Biden-Harris Administration sent Congress a $6 billion request to extend funding for the ACP subsidy at least through the end of 2024 and possibly into 2025. In anticipation of the closure of the ACP, documents on the FCC website outline the ‘ACP Wind-Down Order’ and state that the ACP application process will be frozen at midnight on Feb. 7. It is currently unknown whether the enrollment freeze will be lifted if Congress provides the funding required to continue the program.
The FCC’s ACP Wind-Down Order mandated that internet service providers (ISP) provide notification the first notification to customers no later than Jan. 25 regarding the end of the program and provide a total of three notifications prior to the next billing cycle following the end of the program to inform them of how the changes will impact their internet bills.
Monte Miller, Public Relations and Advocacy Specialist with Wisper ISP, LLC, a wireless provider new to the Parkland area, said, “Wisper has several wireless internet towers located in St. Francois County and can service the Parkland community and its outskirts as part of a $6,105,240 Connect America Fund II investment. Since its inception during the pandemic, Wisper has assisted nearly 500 families with the ACP and Lifeline Programs. Wisper’s research shows more than 55% of students in the Farmington School District and about 60% in the North County School District qualify for ACP benefits because of the eligibility of students to receive reduced-cost or free lunches.”
Despite the looming deadline for the demise of the ACP, Miller expressed his optimism and said there is always the hope that Congress will provide an eleventh-hour safety net to continue the program, something most ISPs are watching with great interest. His company continues its focused marketing push for new customers in St. Francois County with the ACP subsidy at the center of their marketing campaign, along with the placement and ability of their towers to provide speeds up to 400Mbps without the frustrating signal latency that satellite-based internet customers experience.
Customers currently benefitting from the ACP should expect a notification from their ISP in March letting them know what the amount of their non-subsidized bill will be and offering them the option to terminate their service contract without penalty. ISPs like Wisper, Spectrum, and Comcast are urging customers to reach out to their elected officials to support the continuation of the ACP.
They allege the end of the ACP will hurt everyone from low-income consumers to the nation’s education centers to the workforces of telecommunications companies and community organizations. While there are currently no plans to replace the federally-funded program, it is likely that ISPs may attempt to independently generate discount programs in a bid to avoid customer loss.
Lisa Brotherton-Barnes is a staff writer for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.