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Millions of Americans Might Lose Internet Access Today. Here’s What You Need to Know - Best News

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Millions of Americans Might Lose Internet Access Today. Here’s What You Need to Know

Today marks the end of the Affordable Connectivity Program, a landmark piece of US government legislation that aimed to make it easier for people to afford an internet connection in their homes. The program’s end marks a big shift, with the cessation of benefits set to affect millions of Americans who might need them most.

What Is the Affordable Connectivity Program?

In 2021, the US Congress passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. It was a massive, ambitious piece of legislation that aimed to shore up a variety of floundering industries, including transit networks, energy systems, and public utilities. The ACP was part of that deal. It set aside $14.2 billion to fund credits that could help low-income households afford high-speed internet. If a family’s household income was below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline per year, they were eligible for a $30 monthly credit on their broadband bill. People living on Tribal lands were eligible to receive up to $75.

Today, all that is going away.

It’s certainly not an ideal situation, considering that access to the internet is a necessity in modern society, especially in the post-Covid era, when remote work has been normalized. Not being able to get online can contribute to a widening digital divide, where people without internet access can fall behind socially and economically. Americans who have come to depend on the discount will see their internet bills spike and will potentially be forced to balance the increased cost with paying for food, rent, and other essential needs. Not to mention that many ACP beneficiaries had come to rely on getting their internet for free; initial urging by the White House led to many internet providers offering plans with minimum download speeds of 100 Mbps for $30 a month. Customers who were applying their ACP benefit to these plans were getting internet access for free. Starting tomorrow, they will have to start paying for it.

Why Is the ACP Expiring?

The problem is funding. Like with any federal funding, there’s a limit to how long a program can go on without being renewed by Congress. The Biden administration has made several pleas to lawmakers to save the program, including one last October requesting a $6 billion investment to continue the program, among other domestic spending. Despite that and a number of pleas from advocacy groups and organizations like the Federal Communications Commission, nothing came of these attempts, and the program has officially lapsed.

Who’s Affected?

According to the White House, more than 23 million households have taken advantage of the program since it went into effect. That’s a staggering number—roughly one in six households—who now have to find another way to scrape together the funds to stay connected.

The end of the ACP is not exactly a surprise for the organizations that support it. In anticipation of the future lack of funding, the ACP stopped accepting applications for the program in February 2024. According to the US Federal Communications Commission, networks are required to alert users that the program has come to an end, so affected households should have received notices about the wind-down.

What Happens Next?

Unfortunately, any of the families who have been getting the ACP benefit will have to start paying full price for their internet connections—provided they’re able to afford it. If a household’s income is below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or if the household claims other government benefits like SNAP, Medicaid, or Social Security, there’s a way to get a similar reduction in internet cost, albeit a much smaller one. The Universal Service Administrative Company offers a service called Lifeline, which can pay up to $9.25 per month for a connection (and up to $34.25 per month for anyone living on qualifying Tribal lands).

In a press conference yesterday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated the Biden administration’s stance of pushing big telecom companies to continue honoring the ACP rules despite the lack of funding, saying, “We announced earlier this month that we are encouraging providers to take steps to keep their consumers connected at this crucial time by over low-cost, no-cost plans.” However, it isn’t clear whether any of the providers will be keen to play along.

If you’re affected, your internet provider should have already sent you two notifications about your service. If that’s not the case, you should contact your provider. Ultimately, affected users will have to decide whether to continue their service at the new price. The FCC has an information page about the ACP wind-down, where it also encourages filing complaints.

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