US telcos pledge to help as affordable connectivity programme ends

The US programme to provide lower cost Internet access to those in need has formally come to an end, its many proponents having failed to move Congress to stump up more funding.

Mary Lennighan

June 3, 2024

3 Min Read

The FCC is clearly still hopeful the programme will re-start at some point, but in the meantime, the country's major telecoms operators have committed to maintaining sub-$30 plans for eligible users. Or most of them have, at least. There's one big name missing from the list.

The Federal Communications Commission marked the official end of the Affordable Connectivity Program on Friday, the last day of May.

"The Affordable Connectivity Program filled an important gap that provider low-income programs, state and local affordability programs, and the Lifeline program cannot fully address," FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said, in a statement. "The Commission is available to provide any assistance Congress may need to support funding the ACP in the future and stands ready to resume the program if additional funding is provided."

We have known for some time that the scheme was out of cash. The ACP stopped accepting new applications in February and essentially ran out of money in April. Fans of the ACP – from both sides of the political divide – have spent months lobbying Congress to provide additional financial support, but have not been successful.

The programme, which came into operation at the start of 2022, is a federal scheme that offers eligible households up to $30 per month towards the cost of an Internet service – $75 for households on qualifying Tribal lands – delivered via participating ISPs. It also provides discounts on related hardware, such as laptops and tablets.

More than 23 million US households were enrolled in the ACP when applications closed. According to the Biden administration, the figure includes nearly 11.5 million military families, 4 million seniors, 5.75 million African American households, 5.75 million Latino households, and 320,000 households on Tribal lands.

The FCC added that a survey it carried out in the winter showed that 68% of households using the ACP had inconsistent or even zero connectivity prior to the launch of the scheme.

The White House insists the president is "committed to doing everything possible to ensure families continue to access affordable high-speed internet." But thus far, it's the private companies picking up the slack to come up with a solution, albeit a temporary one.

14 ISPs of varying sizes have made voluntary commitments to offer broadband plans at $30 per month or less to low-income households for the rest of this year. The providers in question collectively cover up to 10 million ACP households, the White House said.

Many on the list are smaller, regional companies, but it also includes big telco names such as AT&T and Verizon, and cable operators Comcast, Cox, Charter's Spectrum, and Optimum, part of Altice USA. It does not include T-Mobile US. However, the operator has made provision for its ACP customers as far as the end of August, and is then funnelling them to different options.

While the ACP is now officially at an end, the debate will not stop here. The Biden administration is still pushing Republicans in Congress to support a funding extension and the FCC's Rosenworcel insists "it is not too late to save the...ACP."

In the meantime, we can expect more rhetoric from AC supporters about the importance of decent connectivity for all and the benefits of bridging the digital divide. And it's hard to argue with that.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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