February 29, 2024

In the final days of 2020, Congress approved a COVID-relief package that included $3.2 billion for the FCC to establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to help households that were struggling to afford broadband. The Commission had the program up-and-running by spring, and the public’s response was overwhelming. In the first week, more than one million households signed up, and hundreds of thousands more enrolled week after week. It immediately became clear that demand for this program was going to outlast the pandemic, and Congress responded with a longer-term solution to the broadband affordability challenge. As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, Congress approved over $14 billion to extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit. They even changed its name to the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Today, the Affordable Connectivity Program has more than 23 million subscribers. That’s more than 1 in 6 U.S. households. There’s no denying that demand for ACP support is high. But absent additional funding from Congress, the ACP will run out of funding after April 2024. As a result, the Commission has started to wind-down the program. This includes ceasing new enrollments on February 8, 2024. The end of the ACP will undo the significant progress this program has made towards closing the digital divide. We can’t let this happen.

Over the past three years, I’ve been traveling the country, meeting with ACP recipients and digital navigators to understand first-hand how the program is making a difference. I’ve met with a parent who was moved to tears thinking about how help getting a home internet connection meant her daughter could do school assignments from home. I’ve met people who used a new internet connection to land a job. I’ve met with people who are using their connectivity to access medical assistance that was previously out of reach. I know ACP can be a game-changer. It’s important for me and other policymakers to understand how representative these stories are of the 23 million households receiving ACP support.

To help us fully understand what is at stake if the ACP does not receive additional funding, in December 2023, the FCC conducted a survey of ACP subscribers. The survey was designed to provide deeper insights into whether participants would have been online without ACP, the type of connectivity they would have had without ACP, how they are using their ACP-supported service, and how the end of the program would impact them.

Today, the Commission is releasing the full survey results. We’ve compiled the key findings into a fact sheet available at fcc.gov/acp-survey, so I won’t repeat them all here.

But the topline finding of this survey is that for the overwhelming majority of ACP recipients, the monthly subsidy is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. More than two-thirds of subscribers had inconsistent connectivity or zero connectivity at all before they enrolled in ACP. And more than three-quarters of respondents said losing ACP support would disrupt their service or cause them to drop internet service entirely. Remember 23 million households have enrolled in ACP, so we’re talking about tens of millions of people in our country who now rely on this support for a workable internet connection.

Survey respondents were given the opportunity to submit written responses to our questions about how losing ACP support would impact them. Many said they would “go without” internet service. That means going without access to employment, telemedicine, and online schoolwork. Many said they would “take money from other bills” or “cut other basic expenses” like food or gas. This last finding was a real gut punch.

Unfortunately, these families are perilously close to facing these kind of difficult decisions. The ACP is due to run out after April if Congress doesn’t provide additional funding. In recent months, the Commission and numerous other supporters of the program have been spreading the word about the importance of the ACP and need for additional funding. Efforts are underway to provide additional funding, including the Administration’s supplemental budget request for the ACP, and the introduction of the bicameral, bipartisan Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act. Thanks to today’s survey data, leaders making the decisions about ACP’s future know one thing for certain: if we want to help close our nation’s digital divide, the Affordable Connectivity Program is not nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have. We’ve come too far to turn back now.


Thursday, February 29, 2024