The US Federal Communications Commission has stopped taking new applications for a popular benefit that helps millions of low-income and minority Americans afford internet service.
The Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, provides monthly subsidies of $30 to $75 to help low-income households pay for home internet. The FCC’s move to freeze new sign-ups is another step toward the program’s expiration, which the FCC discussed in a letter to Congress in early January. Existing subscribers will still receive the discount until April, when, the FCC says, the program will officially run out of money unless Congress takes action to extend funding.
The change disproportionately affects minorities, people of color, veterans and seniors, according to a White House fact sheet released Tuesday. The sheet says 1 in 4 households participating in the ACP program are African American, 1 in 4 are Latino and nearly half are military families, along with 4 million seniors and 10 million Americans over the age of 50.
“Internet is like water. It’s an essential public good that should be affordable and accessible to everyone,” Tom Perez, senior advisor and assistant to the president and director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, told CNET.
“We would never consider turning off water pipes, right? So let’s not turn off high-speed internet. Because it really is a pipeline to opportunity and access to health care, to the business world and to educational opportunity.”
What to know if you’re affected
US President Joe Biden requested an additional $6 billion in funding from Congress last October that would carry the ACP through to the end of 2024. A bipartisan group of legislators also introduced a bill in January that would provide $7 billion to extend the program, but it faces significant roadblocks and a tight deadline.
The FCC is expected to begin notifying ACP participants later this month of the exact date the benefit will expire. Subscribers will have the option of paying an increased rate without the subsidy, canceling service altogether or switching to a cheaper package if available.
News of the shutdown arrives as the ACP counted 23 million households using the program — higher than the number enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. (The ACP accepted households at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, or $60,000 for a family of four; SNAP’s cutoff is 130%.)
Other ways you can save money on internet
Though there’s still a chance the ACP could be extended — the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has a helpful guide for advocates — it’s a good idea to start planning for a world without it. Here are some other resources available that can help you pay for internet:
- State and local resources: Some cities and states provide their own internet assistance programs. Maryland, for example, offers a $15 monthly discount for low-income households in addition to the ACP. Most cities and states have a website set up for internet resources; you can usually find it by Googling “[location] internet subsidy.”
- Nonprofit organizations: There are a number of nonprofits that help people afford internet service and devices, including EveryoneOn, Education Superhighway and Human-I-T.
- Low-income programs from internet providers: Many internet service providers have their own programs in place for low-income households, with AT&T, Cox, Mediacom, Optimum, Spectrum, WOW! and Xfinity all offering discounted service. You can see which providers are available in your area by entering your address on the FCC’s broadband map.
- Discounted internet for seniors: Seniors make up about 4 million of the ACP’s 23 million households, and many ISPs offer programs they can utilize. Access from AT&T, Optimum Advantage Internet, Spectrum Internet Assist and Verizon Lifeline are all available to seniors, with varying requirements.
- Lifeline: Lifeline is a federal program that provides a $9.25 monthly discount for phone, internet or bundled services. Its eligibility requirements are stricter than those of the ACP — household income must be at or below 135% of federal poverty guidelines — but the program has been permanently funded since 1984.
- Purchase your own equipment: It typically costs between $15 and $20 to rent a modem and router from an internet provider. You can save money in the long run by purchasing your own equipment, particularly if you buy refurbished gear. You can usually get everything you need for about $100, but you’ll want to make sure your modem is compatible with your ISP before you make a purchase.
- Explore other internet options: If your internet bill becomes too expensive without the ACP discount, it’s worth exploring what other options are available at your address. Most internet providers offer plans below $50 per month, and you can often find discounts for things like bundling with a cellphone plan or committing to a long-term contract.