A new AT&T free Internet plan will leverage the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), offering speeds of up to 100 Mbps symmetrical where available.
The Access from AT&T program used to offer a 10 Mbps plan for $5 to $10 per month. AT&T says those plans will remain, but customers can opt-in to the new free Internet plan leveraging the ACP. Customers can also apply ACP funds towards mobile service provided through AT&T prepaid or Cricket Wireless plans.
“The new Access from AT&T plan provides improved speeds, no data cap and works in concert with the federal ACP benefit,” said Cheryl Choy, SVP- Broadband Management & Strategy in a prepared statement. “Free internet service can be the difference in getting homework done, being able to apply for a job, or receiving medical care.”
The ACP provides up to $30 a month ($75 on Tribal lands) towards the cost of mobile or fixed connectivity for eligible low-income households. The ACP, which currently has a budget of $14.2 billion, replaces the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program that was put in place to help households connect to the internet during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ACP was created as part of the infrastructure bill adopted late last year. The bill required the FCC to transition from the EBB to the ACP earlier this year. The ACP also offers up to $100 towards devices, including tablets and laptops.
AT&T customers can opt to get the free internet service on plans of up to 100 Mbps, or apply the ACP benefit towards more expensive plans. AT&T offers speeds of up to 5 Gbps in certain markets. T-Mobile recently introduced a ‘free’ service through the ACP earlier this year.
From EBB to ACP
The University of Southern California (USC) recently conducted a study on the effectiveness of the EBB program. The study aims to provide insight into how the EBB program performed, just as the program transitions to the new ACP. According to the USC data, the EBB program enrolled almost 9 million households.
The USC study also found that two-thirds of EBB recipients used the benefit to pay for mobile broadband, as opposed to home broadband service.
Researchers use that data point to raise concerns as to whether the program is facilitating the applications that it was intended to. Those applications include access to telehealth, remote work, and online learning, applications that are more difficult to leverage from mobile broadband connections.
USC estimates the EBB program reached about 20% of eligible households, a penetration rate that is relatively low and a potential challenge for the new ACP program.
USC researchers note, though, that the legacy FCC Lifeline program only reaches about 14% of eligible households, noting the EBB program exceeded the Lifeline program benchmark, despite only being in existence for a few months, as opposed to decades for the Lifeline program.