Unless Congress funnels additional money toward the nearly two-year-old Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) that helps make high-speed internet access available to almost 22 million low-income households, its resources will run out by the beginning of May, according to an analysis of federal data from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit best known for rating entertainment on its age appropriateness for children.
The White House is asking Congress for $6 billion to continue the program through December 2024.
“From remote work, virtual education and upskilling, telehealth, and even paying bills, being online is an integral part of our daily lives. Affordable high-speed internet service is especially important for older Americans, many on fixed incomes, who have too often been left behind,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s chief advocacy and engagement officer. “Unfortunately, if the funding for ACP is allowed to run out, millions of older Americans will once again lose access to affordable internet service.”
Although 9 of 10 U.S. households had home internet service in 2022, fewer than 65 percent of adults 65 and older were subscribers, according to Leichtman Research Group in Durham, New Hampshire. That gap in the digital divide is what ACP and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, were designed to fill.
“High-speed internet is not a luxury any longer. It’s a necessity,” President Joe Biden says, comparing it to his grandfather’s need for a telephone as that technology evolved.
The Affordable Connectivity Program provides a $30-a-month subsidy to internet providers — $75 on tribal lands because of the high cost of serving remote areas — for households that earn up to 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines. If you live alone and have a gross income of $29,160 or less in the continental U.S., you can qualify for discounted high-speed internet.
Households with seven, eight or more members can participate in the federal program with incomes topping $80,000, $90,000 and $100,000, respectively. And higher income ceilings are available for people in Alaska and Hawaii because of higher costs of living in those states.
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 suggest that that’s more than 50 million households.
For an internet provider to receive the subsidy, speeds 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 Federal Communications Commission (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.
But without congressional action to extend ACP, the discounted rates will end when the money runs out, several carriers confirm on their websites, including CenturyLink, with coverage in parts of 17 states; Cox, with service in parts of 19 states; and Viasat satellite internet. Program participants can stop their service but must tell a provider if they choose to continue without the discount.