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Congress lets broadband funding run out, ending $30 low-income discounts

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Getty Images | Yuichiro Chino

The Federal Communications Commission chair today made a final plea to Congress, asking for money to continue a broadband-affordability program that gave out its last round of $30 discounts to people with low incomes in April.

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has lowered monthly Internet bills for people who qualify for benefits, but Congress allowed funding to run out. People may receive up to $14 in May if their ISP opted into offering a partial discount during the program’s final month. After that there will be no financial help for the 23 million households enrolled in the program.

“Additional funding from Congress is the only near-term solution for keeping the ACP going,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel wrote in a letter to members of Congress today. “If additional funding is not promptly appropriated, the one in six households nationwide that rely on this program will face rising bills and increasing disconnection. In fact, according to our survey of ACP beneficiaries, 77 percent of participating households report that losing this benefit would disrupt their service by making them change their plan or lead to them dropping Internet service entirely.”

The ACP started with $14.2 billion allocated by Congress in late 2021. The $30 monthly ACP benefit replaced the previous $50 monthly subsidy from the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

Biden urges Republicans to support funding

Some Republican members of Congress have called the program “wasteful” and complained that most people using the discounts had broadband access before the subsidy was available. Rosenworcel’s letter today said the FCC survey found that “68 percent of ACP households stated they had inconsistent or zero connectivity prior to ACP.”

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) included $7 billion for the program in a draft spectrum auction bill on Friday, but previous proposals from Democrats to extend funding have fizzled out. The White House today urged Congress to fund the program and blamed Republicans for not supporting funding proposals.

“President Biden is once again calling on Republicans in Congress to join their Democratic colleagues in support of extending funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program,” the White House said.

Some consumer advocates have called on the FCC to fund the ACP by increasing Universal Service Fund collections, which could involve raising fees on phone service or imposing Universal Service fees on broadband for the first time. Rosenworcel has instead looked to Congress to allocate funding for the ACP.

“Time is running out,” Rosenworcel’s letter said. “Additional funding is needed immediately to avoid the disruption millions of ACP households that rely on this program for essential connectivity are already starting to experience.”

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