Several initiatives are underway to bridge the funding gap for the Affordable Connectivity Program, but 'the odds of an ACP extension remain low,' says New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

March 8, 2024

3 Min Read
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While there's still a chance that funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) will be extended beyond April, one top policy expert fears that a successful extension faces an "uphill struggle."

That was the assessment of New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin, who shared his latest thoughts on the perils of the program in a research note issued earlier in the week.

A pressing issue, he points out, is that ACP was not woven into Congress's latest budget package. "Nor do we see signs that Congress will do so in the next set of packages" that are set to be voted on later this month, added Levin, who is also a former FCC official.

"There are a series of other legislative vehicles that will likely move forward in the next few months, in time to extend the program before current ACP customers are faced with the choice of increased payments or losing service," Levin explained. "But it also suggests that the odds of an ACP extension remain low."

Others are a bit more optimistic. Charter Communications President and CEO Chris Winfrey remains hopeful that the program will be refunded, but stressed that the operator is in position to provide other options for low-income households. Charter, which serves about 5 million ACP recipients, is the most exposed if the program does end.

Related:End of ACP like a 'promotional roll-off,' Comcast CFO says

"I think it's a bipartisan issue. I think there's support to make it happen," Winfrey said this week at the Morgan Stanley Technology Media and Telecom Conference. "And I hope leadership is willing to bring the issue to the table and get it renewed in a sustainable way."

The FCC confirmed Monday (March 4) that funding for the ACP will be depleted at the end of April. More than 23 million households are on the program, which provides a $30 per month subsidy for broadband service to eligible low-income households, or $75 per month for qualified tribal households.

FCC study doesn't change the broader debate

The FCC recently released a new study highlighting the disruptions consumers will grapple with if the ACP goes away. Nearly half (47%) of those surveyed said they didn't have broadband service or relied on cellphone-based Internet service prior to the program.

"While we think the new [FCC survey] data helps address some of the critics [of ACP], we don't think it will change the debate," Levin explained.

He agrees that bipartisan politics are playing a role and that the FCC's new numbers don't address the broader impasse over the government budget.

"The data suggests that the end of the program will cause significant harm to low-income families," he noted. "We don't think, however, that matters to program critics who we think are interested in using their opposition as part of a broader critique of government funding ... The FCC numbers do not address that concern."

Related:ISPs not required to list ACP on broadband labels – FCC

The Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, which aims to provide $7 billion to keep the program alive, has gained additional support in recent weeks, but it's not clear if House Speaker Mike Johnson will allow it to come to the floor.

Levin noted last month (subscription required) that recent support of a dozen Republican co-sponsors in the House for the bill could potentially allow it to be brought to the floor through a discharge petition, enabling a vote without the House speaker scheduling it.

"While we don't think a discharge petition is likely, it is now a mathematical possibility," Levin said at the time.

Among other potential remedies, Levin has referenced an effort in the Senate to consider a modified version of the program that would be paired with fresh funding, but that bill has yet to materialize.

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About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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