The government’s free internet program is running out

Due to dwindling funding, the federal government’s free or discounted broadband program will close applications next week.

After Feb. 7, the Federal Communications Commission says it will no longer enroll new applicants in the Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, unless Congress approves additional funding.

The ACP was created in 2021 as part of the bipartisan $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The goal was to expand broadband Internet access to millions of low-income Americans who don’t have full Internet access or a stable connection.

The program subsidizes the cost of monthly internet bills by up to $30 (or $75 on tribal lands). After the launch of the ACP, several Internet service providers created $30 per month plans, effectively offering free Internet to people approved for the government program.

Money Ads. We may be compensated if you click on this ad.A.DMoney disclaimer ads

Why the Affordable Connectivity program may end soon

According to federal data, more than 22 million Americans have joined the ACP so far, but the $14.2 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure deal is running out.

“Now we appear poised to let that success fade away,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in an announcement earlier this month.

Next week, the FCC will close applications. Recipients who were approved for the ACP subsidy and signed up for an internet plan by Feb. 7 will continue to receive the discount until the funds are completely depleted, which could be as early as April, the FCC estimates. Supporters say the remaining money will run out by May at the latest without further funding.

After that, Internet bills will increase by up to $30 per month for subscribers. Internet service providers are required to clearly demonstrate on customers’ bills how their monthly fees will be affected once the program ends.

Both FCC officials and advocacy groups have raised the alarm about the looming precipice: “Disconnecting millions of families from their jobs, schools, markets and information is not the solution,” Rosenworcel said. “We have gone too far with the ACP to go back.”

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act in both houses of Congress. The proposal aims to provide ACP countries with $7 billion. So far, the bill has garnered broad support from more than 400 groups — including many major telecommunications companies, as well as AARP and the American Civil Liberties Union — but has not yet come to a vote in either chamber.

Broadband Internet access is essential to modern life, according to Emily Drabinski, president of the nonprofit American Library Association.

“If Congress lets this program lapse, it will deliberately set out to jeopardize the best chance we have to close the digital divide and truly connect everyone to broadband,” he wrote in a recent op-ed.

Money Ads. We may be compensated if you click on this ad.A.DMoney disclaimer ads

ACP enrollment problems

Despite offering broadband discounts to tons of low-income Americans, the ACP is plagued by stringent qualifications and a lengthy application process.

Evan Marwell, founder of the nonprofit Education Super Highway, wrote in a report on ACP enrollment that adoption rates are “critically low.” According to the latest enrollment data provided by the organization, approximately 52 million Americans could qualify for the ACP, but only 43% have signed up nationwide.

Several states have adoption rates much lower than the national average.

In North Dakota, for example, only 14 percent of eligible families are enrolled in ACP, the lowest adoption rate in the country. South Dakota isn’t far behind, with an enrollment rate of 17%. And fewer than 1 in 4 eligible residents in Idaho, Utah, Vermont, New Hampshire and Alaska have enrolled in the ACP.

To qualify, applicants’ income cannot exceed 200% of the federal poverty threshold. For most states, that translates to a maximum annual earnings of $29,160 for singles and $60,000 for a family of four. Applicants may also qualify if someone in the household receives SNAP (also known as food stamps), Medicaid, public housing assistance, or a variety of other federal benefits.

Achieving basic qualifications is just the beginning. Education Super Highway, an advocacy group focused on expanding high-speed Internet access, has identified 14 pain points that make the application process unnecessarily burdensome.

First, it states that the application is not mobile-friendly and takes more than 45 minutes to complete. And once the candidates Do Once done, they must wait for approval and then find an internet plan through a participating internet service provider.

Because the application process is arduous and the program’s future depends on new funding from Congress, some people who stand to benefit are starting to wonder whether it’s worth it, according to Drabinski of the American Library Association.

“They are not wrong,” he wrote.

To apply and sign up, visit the Affordable Connectivity program website before the February 7 deadline.

More from Money:

A new expanded child tax credit could be passed soon — here’s who would benefit

IRS launches free file for 2024 tax season with historic expansion of eligibility

Here’s where student loan forgiveness stands after a flurry of developments

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *