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June 22, 2024
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ISPs pick up slack as federal broadband program ends

Affordable Connectivity Act provided low-cost internet services to households

The Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal program that provides internet access to low-income families, has ended after Congress failed to reach an agreement to keep funding it. Over 23 million households—including thousands in Santa Clara and San Benito counties—will no longer receive federal subsidies for cheap internet access. 

However, numerous internet service providers have committed to continuing to offer low-cost plans for the rest of 2024.

The program provided up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households, and up to $75 for eligible households on tribal lands. 

The ACP was created in 2021, when Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which allocated $14.2 billion for the Federal Communications Commission to create a program to help bridge the “digital divide.” After the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns in 2020, schools switched to remote learning, which highlighted disparities in internet access for low-income families.

In January, elected officials across the U.S. sent a letter to Congress raising the alarm over the imminent end of the ACP and urged them to act. In a Jan. 16 letter to Congress, the U.S. Council of Mayors urged senators and representatives to continue funding the ACP.

“Having quality and affordable broadband has become essential in America,” says the letter. “High-speed internet is a necessity for almost every American, connecting people to educational opportunities, telemedicine, and of course, opportunities for work and entrepreneurship.”

But in February, the program stopped accepting new applications and enrollments. After months of uncertainty, the Biden administration put out a statement on May 31 announcing the official end of the program.

“Today […] is the final day that households will receive any benefit from the Affordable Connectivity Program on their internet bills. Without Congressional action to extend funding for the program, millions of households are now at risk of losing their internet connections. President Biden is once again calling on Congress to extend funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, so tens of millions of Americans can continue to access this essential benefit,” the statement said.

The release pointed to the commitment of over a dozen ISP’s as a safety net for households in the absence of a federal program. 

Comcast, the largest home internet provider in the U.S., has rolled out a new program called as an option for low-income families.

“NOW Internet and Mobile will provide customers previously enrolled in ACP another option for affordable, reliable connectivity—supplementing Comcast’s longstanding commitment to providing affordable broadband adoption options,” reads a May 29 blog post on the Comcast California website.

The service provides 100 Mbps of internet for $30, and an option for phone service at an additional cost. Since 2011, Comcast has also offered an Internet Essentials option at a similar rate for 50 Mbps internet speed. The company is partnering with local elected officials—including in Santa Clara County—and will promote the new service in a new outreach campaign.

Joan Hammel, Senior Director of External Communications for Comcast California, said in an email that the NOW plan will run indefinitely. She said that the ISP has been working with officials for months to convince Congress to take action.

“Comcast has been advocating with elected officials within California and across the country from the moment that continued funding for ACP was first called into question,” Hammel said.

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