The FCC said late yesterday that beginning February 7, it will not accept new enrollments in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) unless Congress votes to provide additional funding for the low-income program. The commission detailed ACP wind-down plans, reiterating that without additional funding, April will be the final month for the program.
The program pays $30 a month toward the cost of broadband service for low-income households. Current ACP enrollment is nearly 23 million.
The commission also released a timeline detailing other plans and requirements for the potential wind-down. Among other things, broadband providers have until January 25 – less than two weeks from today—to inform participants of the anticipated wind-down. This will be the first of three notices that providers will be required to send about the program.
The FCC action came just one day after bipartisan legislation was introduced in the Senate and in the House that would make an additional $7 billion available for the program. If passed, the money would enable the FCC to extend the program through the end of the year, eliminating the need for some of the wind-down steps detailed in the order that the FCC adopted yesterday.
The ACP kicked off in January 2022, replacing the previous Emergency Connectivity Fund implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program’s $14.2 billion budget is expected to fund the program only through April.
As the FCC explained in the 15-page order released yesterday about the program wind-down, providers will be required to send their second notice to ACP participants no later than 15 days after the last fully funded month of the ACP is announced by the bureau. The FCC will announce that 60 days in advance.
The third notice should coincide with the last bill or billing cycle in which the full ACP benefit is applied. (A partial benefit may be available in May, depending on funding remaining at that time.)
Since the inception of the ACP, providers have been required to obtain affirmative consumer consent that acknowledges that the household will be charged the full rate for service if the program ends. Providers also are required to obtain a household’s opt-in to continue providing service to the household after the end of the ACP.
High-Cost Rural Area ACP
In October, the FCC voted to raise the monthly ACP benefit to $75 in high-cost rural areas. Shortly thereafter the commission directed the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) to begin accepting applications from providers wishing to offer the higher monthly benefit.
In yesterday’s order, however, the commission said that implementing the higher benefit for such a short time would be confusing and therefore canceled plans for USAC to process the applications. Plans will be reevaluated if additional ACP funding is made available, the FCC said.
In the order, the commission also outlined plans for several federally funded outreach programs designed to encourage ACP enrollment. The commission said it will inform organizations that received outreach grants to cease outreach work focused on enrollment.