President Biden asked Congress to fund a variety of initiatives today, including the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which pays up to $30 a month toward the cost of broadband for low-income households, but which is expected to run out of funding next year.
Biden is requesting $6 billion for the program, which is expected to fund the program through December 2024.
The move was hailed from virtually every corner of the telecom and broadband industry.
“In the 21st century, affordable, reliable high-speed internet is a necessity for Americans to do their jobs, participate equally in school learning, access health care, and stay connected,” a White House memorandum says. “But too often, high costs create a barrier and tens of millions of families, students, and seniors are left without access to high-speed internet, or have to sacrifice other necessities to pay their internet bill, exacerbating underlying inequities.”
The memorandum also referenced a major concern of broadband providers interested in participating in the $42.5 billion BEAD rural broadband program and other funding programs.
“The program is . . . critical for the Administration’s high-speed internet deployment programs for rural, remote, and Tribal communities.”
Rules for the BEAD program and some other programs require funding recipients to participate in the ACP, yet without new funding, the ACP program could soon be gone.
Broadband providers also argue that the availability of ACP impacts take rates for broadband deployments. And if take rates are lower, providers may have to request more funding in the BEAD program to make deployments economically feasible, potentially blunting the impact of the BEAD program.
Among the industry associations voicing support for Biden’s proposal were NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association and USTelecom.
“NTCA members have been active participants in the Affordable Connectivity Program, and a number of their customers rely upon the support this program provides to pay for broadband services month after month,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, in a prepared statement about the Biden ACP request.
“The ACP program is also poised to play a critical part in addressing affordability as part of deployment programs just now getting underway. NTCA therefore applauds the White House for identifying the need for additional funding to prolong the effectiveness of the ACP program in its supplemental appropriations request, and we hope that this program that enjoys such widespread support will continue to play an important role in keeping Americans connected.”
A statement from USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter said, “The Affordable Connectivity Program is a critical part of reaching our shared goal of universal connectivity. We applaud the Administration’s request for additional funding for the ACP. The program has already enabled more than 21 million low-income households to participate in our digital economy.”
The possibility that additional ACP funding would have to be made available by January 2025 apparently did not escape USTelecom’s attention, as Spalter went on to say, “We urge Congress to find a long-term solution to sustain this vital program.”