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Subsidy for High-Speed Internet Discounts Could End Before Mid-2024

Number of households that rely on Affordable Connectivity Program surpasses 20 million

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 21 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.

Although nearly 80 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds said they had home internet in 2021 in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, less than 65 percent of adults 65 and older were subscribers, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Pew Research Center. That gap in the digital divide is what ACP and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, were designed to fill.

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“High-speed internet is not a luxury any longer. It’s a necessity,” President Joe Biden said, 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.

“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. … The Affordable Connectivity Program is vital for older adults, and it must be fully funded.”

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.

Common Sense Media, which also advocates for digital equity, anticipates that service providers would start notifying participants as much as 90 days before the money would run out, but no official notification time frame has been established. Verizon, which has Fios and 5G home internet available in many areas of the country, also expects the FCC will notify providers and the public at least 60 days before the final month of service. 

Who is eligible for the ACP in 2023?

Households with income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For a family of four, 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline is $60,000 in 2023, a more than 8 percent increase from 2022.

How to apply for ACP

Online at Affordable Connectivity Program.

Search for local providers in the program. Companies with a Yes in the $0 with ACP column have at least one free-with-subsidy internet plan.

People who use certain federal assistance programs, including:

  • Federal public housing assistance.
  • Lifeline phone or internet subsidies.
  • Medicaid.
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

People who already use a discounted high-speed internet service aimed at low-income households.

Households whose children get free or low-cost school meals, which can be applied for through your state SNAP office.

Households that participate in programs specifically for tribes, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations or Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

College students who receive student aid in the form of federal Pell grants.

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Additional subsidies and protections

A discounted device. Eligible households nationwide can receive one laptop, desktop computer or tablet from their internet provider. The company is reimbursed $100 based on a code issued when an applicant is accepted into ACP, and the buyer pays more than $10 but less than $50 for the device. Not all providers offer this, but you’ll a see Yes in the Discounted Device column of results when you search for providers in your area.

Help for members of tribes. Households on Native American lands can qualify for benefits of up to $75 a month because stringing fiber-optic cable to remote areas with less population density is more expensive for providers.

Territories eligible, too. Puerto Rico continues to have the highest rate of ACP enrollment per 1,000 households as of Sept. 18, according to data on the ACP website. Puerto Rico, the largest U.S. territory, has the highest poverty rate among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and one territory that are part of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey.

Louisiana, the Northern Mariana Islands, Kentucky and Ohio round out the top five for ACP enrollment rate. Louisiana has the second-highest percentage of residents living in poverty. Northern Mariana Islands is not ranked. Kentucky and Ohio have the 7th and 18th highest percentages, respectively.

Better transparency. The Affordable Connectivity Program prohibits upselling — telling customers that they can’t use their benefit for older, less expensive data plans — or extended service contracts. These are complaints that some beneficiaries had about their carriers under the pandemic-era Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

It also requires internet service providers to make standard labels available, inspired by government nutrition labeling, for internet download and upload speeds, monthly service costs, taxes, equipment and other fees. These rules will likely go into effect this year or in early to mid-2024 for most providers.

“If they have the more affordable plan that works for you, you can choose it,” AARP’s Kahsai says. The White House has asked providers not to add fees or data caps to their $30 plans, and AARP is asking the FCC to monitor the labels to ward off confusion for consumers.

Video: Why Are Older Adults Struggling to Get Internet Access?

Older adults can benefit from digital literacy training

The Affordable Connectivity Program is part of about $65 billion approved to improve access to reliable high-speed internet contained in the bipartisan infrastructure law that Biden signed Nov. 15, 2021. The law also allocates $2.75 billion for digital literacy training to make sure that everyone — regardless of language, ability or age — has the skills needed to take advantage of their connection to the internet.

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AARP has long championed high-speed internet access and digital literacy for all ages to help people work from home as well as shop and stream entertainment.

The number of adults 85 and older already in ACP was more than 300,000 as of Aug. 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 quadrupled since the end of 2021.

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 — nearly 8.9 million.

In a recent AARP tele-town hall, Stephen K. Benjamin, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and former mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, affirmed the administration’s commitment to addressing the digital divide.

“The reality is we see that this disparity disproportionately impacts older Americans [and] communities of color, in our commitment that we all have affordable, reliable high-speed internet,” said Benjamin, a Democrat.

“There are plenty of partisan issues in this country that partisans can spend their time discussing and arguing,” he said. “High-speed internet, access to education, access to knowledge is not one of those issues. And that’s why you see Republicans and Democrats working together.”

$42.5 billion for expansion to underserved areas

While the White House says that broadband providers now collectively offer discounted high-speed internet in areas where more than 80 percent of the U.S. population lives, more than half of the residents of rural areas don’t have the same options as those in or near cities.

About 14.5 million Americans — and 22 percent of those 65 and older — don’t have access to high-speed internet, the FCC says. Other estimates say that as many as 42 million people in the U.S. are on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Nearly $42.5 billion is being allocated to bring high-speed internet to unserved areas that will benefit families of all incomes, which Kahsai considers important for digital equity. In late June, the White House announced specifics of the grants, which the U.S. Department of Commerce will administer:

  • Awards from $27 million to more than $4.4 billion. Every state will receive a minimum of $107 million.
  • 19 states with allocations of more than $1 billion. That includes Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
  • Resources, combined with past programs, that will connect every resident and small business in each state, territory and the District of Columbia to high-speed internet by 2030.

The new service must have speeds of at least 100 Mbps for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads.

Check the broadband map for your address

The FCC released the first draft of a new national broadband map in November after consulting with internet service providers, local governments and tribes.

The agency is now allowing the public to challenge the information in its database. The map’s goal is to offer an accurate picture of the availability of fixed and mobile broadband across the country.

Consumers can search their own addresses to see whether the information available is correct. If it’s not, they can fill out a form to tell the agency what’s right. Correct information will help the government identify areas in need of infrastructure investments.

Need more help?

ACP Support Center. The center, which operates 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET daily, provides information on the ACP program at 877-384-2575 toll free. Or email

LifelineIf your income is at 135 percent of this year’s federal poverty guidelines or lower or you have at least one family member in some public assistance program, such as Medicaid, SNAP or SSI, you can apply for the federal Lifeline program for an additional $9.25 discount off monthly phone or internet bills. A printable form is also available to file.

Senior Planet from AARPLive classes give you basic information about ACP and signing up for home internet in general. Its free classes are for anyone who wants to learn the basics and other skills after getting online.

The AARP Virtual Community Center has regularly scheduled free technology classes.

AARP Foundation offers programs and services to help older adults secure jobs, benefits, refunds and social connections.

Connect2Affect from AARP Foundation can help you combat social isolation.

This story, originally published March 2, 2021, has been updated and condensed. The number of program subscribers is also regularly updated. John Waggoner and Linda Dono contributed.

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