By Angie Kronenberg, President, INCOMPAS
In August, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) hit a momentous milestone – 20 million households enrolled in the program. The ACP is vital for ensuring that low-income families can purchase broadband internet service. However, without congressional action, the ACP is expected to run out of funding in the first half of 2024 – jeopardizing connectivity for all.
Recognizing this looming fate, a significant number of policy makers and other stakeholders are urging Congress to shore up the program.
At its summer meeting, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) adopted a resolution that calls on Congress to provide permanent annual funding for the ACP. Similarly, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, as well as the National Conference of State Legislatures, adopted resolutions that urge Congress to renew and extend the ACP’s funding as doing so will help strengthen the U.S. economy.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote a letter to congressional appropriations leaders to request robust funding for the ACP, which included 165 civil society organizations, municipal governments and other interested stakeholders. The No Home Left Offline Coalition also sent a letter to every governor in the nation asking them to tell Congress “to take urgent action to renew the ACP.” Each letter highlights how many households in each state that participate in the program and explains how the program helps lower the costs of deployment, which is important for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program that is investing over $40 billion to connect America. It points out how the ACP works hand-in-glove with the states’ BEAD and digital equity plans to make broadband service affordable for low-income families.
Others who have written Congress to support additional funding for the ACP include the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership, representing the most influential national Hispanic organizations in the U.S., and the Consortium for Constituents with Disabilities Technology & Telecommunications Task Force, representing the most influential national organizations that advocate on behalf of children and adults with disabilities.
Federal Officials Raise an Alarm
Federal policymakers are also raising the alarm, and FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks has taken the lead. At the INCOMPAS Policy Summit, he called for sustainable funding, noting the “need to address the longevity of the program’s funding” and doing so “quickly and with certainty.”
Likewise, Joseph Wender, director of the Capital Projects Fund at the Treasury Department, which is in charge of funding network deployment throughout the U.S., noted that there would be a “cascading effect” if Congress does not act because the ACP helps ensure that broadband is affordable for all, and the deployment programs and the ACP are co-dependent.
NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson, who is managing the BEAD program, also explained how the ACP and BEAD programs are complementary, that the ACP is critical to meeting the nation’s goal of eliminating the digital divide, and declared that “[w]e won’t be able to reach our goal of affordable networks without it.”
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel also warned Congress in a recent House oversight hearing that the FCC will “have to make hard decisions about what kind of choices will need to be made to wind this program down if Congress does not provide an additional appropriation.”
It is not just Democrats who are concerned about the ACP running out of funds and the impact that will have on families’ connectivity. A bipartisan group of 45 Members of Congress—including 29 Democrats and 16 Republicans — wrote to congressional leadership and called for an extension of the ACP in the upcoming government appropriations bill.
Eight Republican Senators also recognized the importance of continuing to fund the program, sending a letter to President Biden seeking to repurpose unobligated COVID funds to the ACP. Led by Senate Commerce Committee member Roger Wicker (R-MS) and joined by Senators Crapo (R-ID), Cramer (R-ND), Tillis (R-NC), Capito (R-WV), Vance (R-OH), Risch (R-ID) and Young (R-IN), the letter states that as the BEAD deployments “become operational, the significance of the [ACP] will become even more important as it ensures our constituents can benefit from these historic investments in connectivity.”
The House Committee on Appropriations also commended the program in a recent report, indicating interest and support for the ACP from House appropriators.
During opening remarks for MMTC’s former FCC Chairs’ Symposium, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called on Congress to provide additional funding for the ACP, and all the panelists agreed, including former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley, former FCC Commissioner and Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, and former FCC Commissioner and former RUS Administrator Jonathan Adelstein. Other notable supporters of the ACP include former FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly as well as Blair Levin, who was the executive director of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. In a recent interview , Levin emphasized the importance of additional funding, noting that if the program ended, the U.S. is “positioned to take the single largest step backward in terms of widening the digital divide of any country since the beginning of the internet.”
Similarly, the chairs of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent a letter to the Biden-Harris Administration urging its support for replenishing the funding for the ACP.
ACP subscribers and the broadband providers that serve them need certainty, and they need it fast. Without further funding, the FCC and providers will need to start making plans to wind down the program in the coming months in order to provide adequate notice to subscribers. Cutting off these subscribers can be avoided with clear action from Congress to renew funding.
Congress should take this opportunity to listen to the tremendous support from all stakeholders including industry, trade groups, public interest organizations, and the federal and state governments that are all calling to fund this vital program.
While ACP is a major priority for consumers, providers and stakeholders, it is only one of many issues facing the industry today. Several current FCC proceedings, specifically ones addressing robocalls, broadband labels, online services regulation, and barriers to deployment including railroads all must be addressed to achieve the goal of increasing competition to bridge the digital divide and ensure Internet for All.These issues and more will be covered during the Policy Workshop at the 2023 INCOMPAS Show, taking place October 8-10 in Tampa, Fla. For more information visit show.incompas.org.