Low-Income Americans Still in Need of Internet as Affordable Connectivity Program Nears End

Affordable Connectivity Program, internet, low-income Americans, run out

The importance of affordable and accessible broadband internet has never been more apparent than during the Covid-19 pandemic. The image of two grade school students sitting outside of a Taco Bell to do their schoolwork highlighted the digital divide in the United States and sparked a call for action. This led to the creation of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which currently provides financial assistance to over 23 million low-income households to access broadband service.

The ACP has received widespread support from various stakeholders, including governors, mayors, and members of Congress. However, the program is facing a funding shortage and will run out of money by the end of April. Without additional funding, millions of low-income households may once again struggle to afford internet access.

To address this issue, there is a bipartisan push to extend the ACP and secure funding for the program. However, the current congressional appropriations process may not be the most effective way to fund important telecommunications priorities like universal access to affordable broadband. A better alternative is to empower the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modernize and expand the Universal Service Fund (USF).

The USF, created as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, has been instrumental in advancing connectivity across all states and territories. The fund has provided access to rural, tribal, and remote areas, supported education and healthcare services, and helped low-income households stay connected. However, the current funding mechanism for the USF is not sustainable, as it relies solely on fees imposed on traditional telephone services.

To ensure the continuity of programs like the ACP and to address the evolving needs of the digital age, the FCC should modernize the USF by expanding the base of companies contributing to the fund. This could include broadband providers, cloud services, and online companies like Google and Meta. By diversifying the sources of funding, the FCC can secure the future of the USF and continue to support affordable connectivity for all Americans.

The recent allocation of $65 billion in funding for broadband deployment, affordability, and adoption in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law presents an opportunity to modernize the USF. The FCC should take urgent action to sustain and expand the fund, ensuring that over 23 million households can continue to access affordable internet service.

In conclusion, the digital divide in the United States remains a significant challenge, but with the right policies and funding mechanisms in place, we can work towards universal access to affordable broadband. By empowering the FCC to modernize the Universal Service Fund, we can ensure that no one is left behind in the digital economy. The time to act is now.

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