FCC’s internet subsidy program ends, 23 million affected

The US Federal Trade Commission (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) that helps over 23 million low-income households pay for broadband services has run out of funds – and it's unclear if lawmakers will allocate a fresh round of money needed to continue the popular benefit.

The FCC benefit program was launched on December 31, 2021, and guaranteed consumers could get internet services for work, school, healthcare, and more, regardless of their credit status or past payment history.

Under the ACP benefit, qualifying households would receive up to a $30 monthly discount toward internet services (households on Tribal lands received up to $75 per month).

Last August, the FCC boasted that there were over 20 million households enrolled in the subsidy program, which ends Tuesday, April 30th, unless Congress adopts the bi-partisan Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, introduced in January.

Unfortunately for those enrolled, a ‘Hail Mary’ from lawmakers to keep the program running seems unlikely at this time.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel released a letter to lawmakers earlier this month urging immediate action to pass the broadly supported $7 billion extension, stating households would see drastic changes in their May bills if no action was taken.

“Today, more than 23 million households nationwide count on [the ACP] to get online and stay online, including vulnerable seniors, veterans, school-aged children, and residents of rural and Tribal communities,” Chairwoman Rosenworcel wrote in the letter.

An FCC survey released in February showed that more than three-quarters of ACP households would experience service disruptions if the program ended on April 30th.

In fact, the ACP recipients surveyed said they would have to "take money from other bills" or "cut other basic expenses," like food or gas, if "their monthly internet bill were $30 higher."

Many others respondents said they would be forced to "go without" internet or "drop the service," the data showed.

The breakdown of ACP household use of the internet for critical services is as follows:

  • 72% for scheduling or attending healthcare appointments
  • 48% for work or to apply for jobs.
  • 75% for schoolwork (among 18–24-year-old subscribers).

According to the survey, over two-thirds of ACP participants said before enrolling in the program, they had inconsistent connectivity or zero connectivity, with 80% citing affordability as the main barrier.

In anticipation of ACP ending, the FCC is offering an alternative government program for recipients called “Lifeline.”

The agency describes the Lifeline program as one that offers eligible consumers up to $9.25 off per month on the cost of phone, internet, or bundled services (up to $34.25 if you live on Tribal Lands).

For more information on the Lifeline program and the ACP wind down, the FCC has provided an information sheet for consumers, who should have already been notified by their service providers about the changes.

“If we want to close our nation’s digital divide, the Affordable Connectivity Program is not nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have,” Chairwoman Rosenworce has said.

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