The Federal Communications Commission is not well suited for distributing the funds in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), said former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly at a recent Brookings Institution event.
Although O’Rielly did not suggest an alternative solution, he indicated that social service offices could be better suited to distributing ACP funds than the FCC.
The FCC can and should provide technical advice and insight on technical components of the program, he said, but it is “not well suited” to act as a social distribution mechanism. The FCC should participate in the umbrella structure of the ACP program provided another entity deals with the distribution process, he said. He assured the panel that doing so will not reduce the quality of broadband products to the end user.
The FCC is responsible for managing the ACP Outreach Grant Program that provides funding to increase awareness of and participation in the ACP among eligible households. The program is made up of four grant programs: the National Competitive Outreach Program, the Tribal Competitive Outreach Program, the Your Home Your Internet Pilot Program and the ACP Navigator Pilot Program.
A total of $70 million is available for the NCOP and TCOP grant programs. Grants through the YHYI and ACP Navigator program will offer up to $5 million. The FCC has awarded $66 million in grants to date.
Some of the large telecommunications companies have urged Congress to extend the ACP for the long-term, as they say there is a real concern that the $14-billion program could run out of funds by the first quarter of next year.
O’Rielly praised the FCC ACP program as the “best structure we have to date” to achieve digital adoption goals. He expressed his support that the program be funded through congressional appropriations, which increases the level of control Congress has on the program.
“Congress being involved is the only way to ensure the program is sustainable,” he said.
In response to concerns that congressional appropriations will not support the program in the face of looming debts and the recent debt ceiling deal, O’Rielly said that the ACP program deserves appropriate scrutiny on its effectiveness but that it “can be defended” and “deserves additional funding.”
This piece was originally published by Broadband Breakfast on June 5, 2023 and is republished with permission.