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May 31, 2024
By

In an era of where it seems we don’t tend to agree on much, perhaps nothing in Washington engenders broader support than the goal of closing the digital divide. The need to bridge America’s connectivity gap took on unprecedented urgency at the start of the pandemic. As so much of our lives moved online, it became crystal clear that broadband has become essential for work, school, health care and so much more.

No effort has ever done more, faster to close our digital divide than the Affordable Connectivity Program. Initially established in December 2020 and later expanded and renamed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the ACP enrolled more than 23 million subscribers across rural, suburban and urban America. That’s one in six U.S. households.

I am incredibly proud of the work the Commission did to quickly stand up and effectively manage this effort to help over 23 million households get and stay online. Unfortunately, funding for the ACP has expired, and the FCC has ended the program for now and shut off support that made broadband affordable for so many people across the country. 

It is not too late to save the Nation’s largest broadband affordability program. The ACP was too impactful and has too much support from both parties on Capitol Hill and across the country to just move on and say it was nice while it lasted. Bipartisan efforts to provide more funding for the ACP are ongoing, and the FCC is ready to resume the program as soon as any additional funding is provided. 

Our three-plus years of experience with Congressionally-funded affordability programs have taught us valuable lessons. As we look ahead and funding talks continue in Congress, I believe there are certain key insights that we need to keep front-of-mind. 

First, we will never erase the digital divide if we don’t tackle the affordability challenge. More than one million households enrolled in the first week after the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, the precursor to the ACP, launched in May 2021. Three years later, the ACP has enrolled over 23 million households. Historically, federal efforts to close the digital divide have focused on making high-speed internet available in all areas, with little emphasis on affordability for everyday households. The strong demand for the ACP is definitive evidence that too many working families have been trapped on the wrong side of the digital divide because they struggle to pay for service. 

Second, the ACP is the most impactful way to address affordability across the nation. It offers a standard, reliable benefit nationwide to help low-income households get online and stay online. We got this program up and running in record time, and built it out to reach one in six households in under three years. No other broadband affordability program has had the same reach or impact. 

Third, and most important, for participating households, the ACP is not a nice to have, it is a necessity. Each of the 23 million-plus ACP subscribers that no longer receives an ACP benefit represents an individual or family in need of just a little bit of help to have the connectivity we all need to participate in modern life. And 68 percent of these households had inconsistent connectivity or zero connectivity before the ACP. Losing the ACP benefit will have a significant toll on these households. Without the ACP benefit, many ACP households will have to cut other important expenses, such as food and gas, in order to stay online. Some households may not be able to afford internet service at all.  

For the past three years, I’ve traveled the country and met with many ACP recipients. I 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 met people who used a new internet connection to land a job. I met with people who are using their connectivity to access medical care that was previously out of reach. 

Then there are the people who have reached out to the FCC on their own to let us know how much the program has meant to them. A consistent theme is that many ACP recipients are seniors on fixed incomes struggling to pay competing bills and make ends meet. We also heard from a 47-year-old in Alabama who’s going back to school to become a psychologist and could now use a laptop instead of her phone to stay on top of online classwork. In addition, we heard from a senior raising her 10-year-old grand-nephew who could finally keep up with online schooling. 

Without question, the ACP has been a game changer. When it ended in May, things got a little bit harder in the homes I just mentioned and more than 23 million others like them.

It’s my memories of these people that will keep me fighting until we bring the Affordable Connectivity Program back. Reinstating the ACP is the right thing to do for them. It’s the right thing to do for our economy. And it’s the right thing to do if we hope to realize the fundamental American promise of opportunity for all.

— Jessica


Friday, May 31, 2024