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Inflation in the past year has caused a rise in income levels to qualify for the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a $14.2 billion initiative to help bring high-speed internet access to households that earn up to 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
The 2023 guidelines, released in January, raise the gross income limit for a single-person household in the continental United States and territories by nearly $2,000 to $29,160. Households with seven, eight or more members now qualify with income topping $80,000, $90,000 and $100,000. And those who live in Alaska and Hawaii have higher income ceilings.
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Hundreds of internet service providers in the U.S. and its territories are offering high-speed internet for no more than $30 a month through the Affordable Connectivity Program, now in its second year. More than 18 million lower-income households have signed up as of May 15, nearly doubling since the end of 2021.
“High-speed internet is not a luxury any longer. It’s a necessity,” President Biden said, comparing it to his grandfather’s need for a telephone as that technology evolved.
Nearly 40 percent of households in America qualify for the $30-a-month credit, which means “most folks will get on for nothing,” the president said. Census figures show that’s more than 50 million households.
Among the hundreds of providers that are offering all ACP-eligible families at least one high-speed plan for $30 a month or less are huge carriers, including AT&T, Comcast, Cox Communications and Verizon (Fios only), and smaller providers, including IdeaTek in Kansas and Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee.
Internet speeds at that price must be at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) where a company’s infrastructure supports it. That’s fast enough for a family of four to work from home, browse the web and stream high-definition video, the administration says.
The FCC defines high-speed broadband as 25 Mbps for download speed and 3 Mbps for uploads. All of a company’s internet plans that meet the FCC standard are eligible for the subsidy.
How to find companies in your area
The broadband providers collectively offer discounted high-speed internet in areas where more than 80 percent of the U.S. population lives, including nearly 50 percent of the rural population, according to the White House. GetInternet.gov has details on how Americans can sign up for the ACP, and you can search for participating internet providers in your area at a second site that will give personalized information by typing in your zip code. Companies with a “Yes” in the “$0 with ACP” column have high enough speeds to qualify for the federal subsidy and low enough prices that low-income customers will get free internet.
The ACP doesn’t count the total number of people served through its program. It looks at households, not individuals, because utility bills serve addresses. While most heads of households in the program nationwide are age 18 to 49, almost 45 percent are 50 and older — more than 7.6 million. That's more than double the number under the Emergency Broadband Benefit program available early in the pandemic.
“This data proves what we have known for a long time: affordable connectivity is critical for millions of older Americans,” says Dawit Kahsai, AARP’s government affairs director. “From access to telehealth to connecting with loved ones and caregivers, affordable high-speed internet matters. Now, with this new data and map, policymakers and others can see just how important this program is to older residents in their communities. The Affordable Connectivity Program is vital for older adults, and it must be fully funded.”
Money for the subsidies is expected to run out next year.
The number of adults 85 and older in ACP topped 255,000 as of April 1, the latest figures available. The percentage of the oldest adults in the program has been gradually rising past 1 percent since the subsidies began, and the number of subscribers 85 and older has more than tripled since the end of 2021. AARP has long championed high-speed internet access and digital literacy for all ages to help them work from home as well as shop and stream entertainment.
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