No more ACP

In a public notice released late yesterday, the FCC officially said that April will be the last full month for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) due to insufficient funding. The commission also said it will let providers know later this month about the amount to expect per customer in May, leaving the providers with a choice to make.

Should they end their participation in the program after April? Should they pass on a partial benefit to customers for May and require the customers to pay the extra portion? Or should they offer a full ACP benefit in May by contributing whatever they need to to reach the full $30 per month discount per low-income household?

And what happens after May? Providers that don’t already have a low-income offering also must decide whether they want to create one as an option for ACP customers losing their benefits.

Notification Requirements

As they make these decisions, providers also must comply with requirements to make several notifications to ACP customers about the impending end of the program.

By March 19, the providers must send ACP households a written notice advising them that the program is ending and explaining how this will impact service and bills. The providers also must send another notice that “coincides with the last bill or billing cycle in which the full ACP benefit is applied,” the FCC explained in the public notice released yesterday.

The correspondence must clearly explain the impact that the end of the ACP will have on the customer, the FCC said. The commission also encourages providers to advise customers of any low-income services they may offer.

Providers were already required to advise customers last month of the impending end to the program, and the commission reminds providers that they have the option of sending more notices in addition to those that are required.

Details about the notification requirements can be found in the public notice.

A Slim Chance for More Funding

Although federal legislators have not heeded pleas for new ACP funding from President Biden, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, consumers, or other stakeholders, one government observer sees a slim chance that the ACP could get more funding.

“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,” said Blair Levin, policy advisor for New Street Research. “But it also suggests that the odds of an ACP extension remain low.”

Meanwhile, providers also must consider whether they want to apply for rural broadband deployment funding in the $42.5 billion BEAD program in the wake of an ACP shutdown. The BEAD program requires funding recipients to offer a low-income service, and without the ACP, that will be a tougher requirement to meet.

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