Along with the other stresses that accompanied the shifts to work from home and remote schooling, the price of sufficient high-speed bandwidth presented real challenges for low-income workers.
In order to address those problems and to improve the affordability of high-speed connectivity for all Americans, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, “which provides eligible households $30 per month off their internet bills.”
On May 9, 2022, the White House made public an ACP fact sheet and announced the government “has secured commitments from 20 leading internet providers—covering more than 80% of the U.S. population across urban, suburban, and rural areas—to either increase speeds or cut prices, making sure they all offer ACP-eligible households high-speed, high-quality internet plans for no more than $30/month.”
Experts estimate that 48 million households, or almost 40% of households in the country, qualify for the ACP either because their income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level or because a member of the household meets one of the other criteria: They participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit, Free and Reduced-Price Lunch, Pell Grant, Lifeline, or certain tribal assistance programs.
A number of steps have been put in place to help ACP-eligible households take advantage of the program. These include the following:
- Launching getinternet.gov. gov is a website where you can sign up for ACP and learn about the participating internet service providers (ISPs) in your region.
- Reaching out to eligible households through federal agencies. Agencies that qualify individuals for the program will reach out to participants in their programs. As an example, the U.S. Social Security Administration will email all 1.6 million Supplemental Security Income recipients who have a “My Social Security” account to let them know they’re eligible.
- Partnering with states and cities. States and cities, for example Michigan, Massachusetts, and Arizona, and Philadelphia, Mesa, and New York City will text millions of households that qualify.
- Collaborating with public interest organizations. National networks like United Way, Goodwill, Catholic Charities, and UnidosUS will train their personnel to conduct direct enrollment and outreach.
PRIVATE SECTOR COMMITMENTS
In the ACP fact sheet, the government has asked the participating ISPs to do one of two things: reduce prices and/or increase connectivity speeds “to offer ACP-eligible households a high-speed internet plan for no more than $30/month…. A sufficiently high-speed plan [would be] at least 100 Megabits per second everywhere that the provider’s infrastructure is capable of it. That’s fast enough for a typical family of four to work from home, do schoolwork, browse the web, and stream high-definition shows and movies. The Administration asked providers to offer such plans with no fees and no data caps.”
THE LARGER PROGRAM
Along with lowering the cost of high-speed internet, there are new grant programs to increase broadband infrastructure. These have attached requirements that providers offer affordable internet options. Also, ISPs will soon be required to post what many are calling a “broadband nutrition label” at the point of sale that clearly discloses prices, introductory rates, data allowances, broadband speeds, and management practices. And the FCC has adopted rules that ban sweetheart deals between ISPs and landlords that restrict internet options for apartment dwellers.
Taken all together, the ACP program and the new spending on infrastructure seem to be a good start on the road to realizing the promise of high-speed internet connectivity countrywide.