Nothing motivates lawmakers in Washington more than a crisis, and a big one is fast approaching as more than 20 million American households are at risk of losing internet connectivity if Congress fails to act.
It’s often said there are three parties on Capitol Hill – Republicans, Democrats and appropriators. In a rare moment of bipartisan agreement, the first two have recognized the positive impact of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Now it’s time for the appropriators to get on board and find a solution to permanently fund the program.
As I’ve previously stated, the ACP is not a handout – it’s a hand-up into today’s modern, digital economy. The ACP is not a welfare or entitlement program. It is a direct-to-consumer broadband-specific voucher that has enabled more than 20 million American households to access the online economy, educational opportunities, telehealth, and more.
But for some families, paying for broadband is a barrier to adoption. According to Pew Research, "absent policy intervention directed by federal and state governments, low-income households will continue to struggle to get internet access and maintain it." This situation will worsen as the economy feels the full impact of the Federal Reserve’s anti-inflation moves.
The ACP addresses this challenge by providing eligible lower-income families with a monthly discount of up to $30 on broadband service, along with an initial one-time $100 voucher to help them purchase a computer or other electronic device they can use to connect to the internet. Without this help many struggling families would be unable to afford connectivity, making it harder for them to find jobs, take classes, access health care or perform any of the myriad other online tasks that most of us take for granted.
Connecting all Americans is critical to our nation’s economic future and enabling the U.S. to continue to lead the world in innovation in new technologies and reverse the brain drain that has hit hard in rural communities. The long-term economic benefits that connectivity enables will be particularly impactful in rural America if the ACP continues.
This issue is incredibly timely because this summer the federal government is providing the states with billions of dollars in infrastructure funding to build broadband networks in areas that don’t have proper access. But the work doesn’t end once the networks are built. Maintaining broadband networks is expensive. Without the ACP these new networks could fail. But with the ACP subscriber base intact, broadband providers will have the certainty to invest in maintaining and enhancing these networks in the future.
Despite today’s increasingly divided political climate, bipartisan support for this government voucher program is clear. In March 2023, a survey from Public Opinion Strategies and RG Strategies showed an "overwhelming bipartisan support for extending the Affordable Connectivity Program’s (ACP) funding. According to the survey’s results, 78% of registered voters support the measure – specifically, 95% of Democrats, 70% of Independents, and 64% of Republicans."
In today’s divided political climate where the parties can hardly agree on what day of the week it is, these results are a testament to the effectiveness of the ACP and the shared belief that all Americans should be online.
Republicans in Congress should follow the lead of Republican Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, J.D. Vance of Ohio, Jim Risch of Idaho, and Todd Young of Indiana, who sent a letter to President Biden encouraging him to utilize unused COVID-19 relief funds to fund the ACP to ensure "constituents and communities can access crucial broadband services."
Congress can sort out the details and the best way to fund ACP, but it’s time for members to speak out and work together on a path forward this fall.
House and Senate appropriators would be putting their own personal priorities ahead of the best interests of the people they represent if they foolishly keep this successful program out of an upcoming budget bill and allow it to lapse.
If it does lapse, the countless benefits of being online for millions of households will be lost. Congress must act to keep the ACP alive, for now, and for America’s future.
Giving Americans a hand up will help power the U.S. economy in today’s competitive digital world.