The Divide: Why the Affordable Connectivity Program is key to closing the digital divide

This week: We hear from five digital equity leaders on their work to enroll people in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and why it's urgent for Congress to fund the ACP if the US wants to close the digital divide.

Nicole Ferraro, Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast

October 2, 2023

At a Glance

  • Background on the state of the Affordable Connectivity Program (00:15)
  • How community groups and municipalities are enrolling people in the ACP (02:12)
  • Digital equity leaders' message to Congress and their communities about ACP's funding shortfall (16:58)

The US federal government is on the cusp of making its largest investment in broadband in history, through the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. But as we get closer to seeing those dollars roll out to states, and then to providers, there's growing concern about the ability for tens of millions of households to afford access to broadband services.

That's because the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) – a $14.2 billion program, originally funded, along with BEAD, in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) – is rapidly running out of funding. The ACP provides a monthly broadband subsidy of $30 (up to $75 for households on tribal land), with a one-time device discount of $100, for qualifying low-income households. However, without action from Congress, the ACP is set to run dry by April 2024 – potentially kicking millions of people off of their broadband plans. That reality would also create a dilemma for service providers, as they are required by statute to offer a low-income service option if they participate in BEAD and other federal broadband grant programs.

But with Congress barely meeting its deadline to temporarily keep the government running just this weekend, and growing disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on the future of broadband subsidy programs, anxiety is increasing around whether the ACP has a future – and what it means for the US digital divide if not.

Related:Rosenworcel warns Congress that not funding ACP will 'cut families off'

Meanwhile, the program is still reaching just a fraction of those who are eligible: While over 21 million households are currently enrolled in the ACP, some estimates show that roughly 40 million households qualify for the discount.

Reaching people to inform them about the ACP, assuage their concerns and get them enrolled is a heavy lift, and it's a job being carried out, one person at a time, by digital navigators and community leaders across the country. In this episode, we hear from five people who are helping their local communities enroll in the program, and in some cases benefitting from the ACP themselves, about that work – and about their thoughts on the ACP running out of funding. They include, in order of first appearance:

Related:ISPs, digital navigators work to promote the ACP

(Click the caption button on the video player above for a lightly edited transcript of this conversation.)

Special thanks to the team at Network:On for helping coordinate this episode. Click here to learn more about Network:On and their Connecting the 20% campaign about closing the digital adoption gap. And check out this toolkit from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) to spread the word about the need for the ACP.

Read more about:

The DivideACP

About the Author(s)

Nicole Ferraro

Editor, host of 'The Divide' podcast, Light Reading

Nicole covers broadband, policy and the digital divide. She hosts The Divide on the Light Reading Podcast and tracks broadband builds in The Buildout column. Some* call her the Broadband Broad (*nobody).

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