Open access network operator Underline is launching what Bob Founder and CEO Bob Thompson calls the “most generous” Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) offering in the U.S. Telecompetitor talked to Thompson about the low-income broadband service and got an update on the company.
ACP is a federal program that contributes $30 a month to the cost of internet service for low-income households.
Multiple broadband providers have what Thompson calls “net zero” ACP offerings that have a price tag of $30, enabling qualifying households to get free service when the ACP benefit is applied. But as he noted, these offerings typically provide relatively low speeds in comparison with the providers’ other services.
That won’t be true for Underline, though, he said.
“Unlike with the bigger companies, a poor family gets no less speed and performance than a paying family gets,” Thompson told us.
The Underline “net zero” offering will provide 500 Mbps symmetrical service and is the same as an Underline offering that costs $49 for non-ACP households. In addition, ACP customers will have the option of purchasing gigabit symmetrical service for $35 a month after the ACP benefit is applied. That service costs $65 for non-ACP households.
Thompson hopes that Underline’s move will put pressure on other providers to enhance their ACP low-income broadband services.
“Behavior won’t change until it’s in [other providers’] interest to change or they are forced by the competitive process,” Thompson said. “We challenge the industry to step up and do the right thing.”
Underline Open Access Networks
Telecompetitor initially spoke with Thompson in 2021 when Underline first announced its open access network plans, which we called “open access with a twist.”
While some open access networks are essentially aggregation networks, with other providers responsible for building the last mile to the customer, Underline’s announced networks, currently operating in two Colorado markets, provide end-to-end service, including the Wi-Fi router installed at the customer premises.
Underline also specifies the prices that tenant providers can charge for service – a strategy motivated by the desire to avoid having the providers compete with one another on price, generating the dreaded “rush to the bottom.” All providers using the Underline network will support the new ACP low-income broadband offerings, Thompson said.
Underline has three providers using its network in each of its announced markets, Thompson told us.
He also noted that the company has networks in the works in other markets.
“We are doing spectacularly well,” he said.