Supporters Rally for Affordable Internet Access through ACP

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2024 – On the final day that full program benefits are offered under the Affordable Connectivity Program, officials in Washington rallied Tuesday to emphasize the grave repercussions of the program’s imminent end.

The internet subsidy program, which has been providing low or no-cost internet to 23 million American households for roughly two years now, was hailed by officials Tuesday for addressing long-neglected affordability barriers that prevent some people from accessing the internet.

One in six U.S. households has utilized the program since its inception. Of these, nearly half are military families. Over half are above age 50, and four million are seniors living on a fixed income. The program has bipartisan support among voters, and urban-rural backing.

Affordable Connectivity Program Rally on April 30

The event will be in person at Shaw/Watha T. Daniel Library, located at 1630 7th St NW in Washington, and live online.

However, starting tomorrow, enrolled households will only receive a partial credit towards their monthly internet costs through May. In a month’s time, these families will have to notify their provider on whether they are able to afford to continue their internet subscription or are opting to face disconnection.

During Tuesday’s gathering at the Shaw/Watha T. Daniel Library in Washington D.C., rally participants chanted “That ain’t right!” in response to the looming reality.

The event, organized to advocate for the establishment of a long-term low-income internet subsidy, was spearheaded by public interest groups, including Public Knowledge. However, representatives from USTelecom and the cable industry were also in attendance, demonstrating broad support for ACP.

Speaking at the rally, FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez poignantly highlighted the challenges faced by low-income Americans during her opening remarks. She encouraged attendees to consider the imminent reality of families nationwide sitting around the kitchen table, balancing expenses like groceries, rent, utilities, health care, childcare and all the other essentials, with the cost of high-speed internet.

Gomez said that failing to refund the internet subsidy would have disastrous consequences for U.S. families and jeopardize trust the U.S. government has established with vulnerable populations.

“We in this country obscure the reality of how hard it is to be poor,” echoed Senator Peter Welch, D-Vermont, one of the initial co-sponsors of the ACP Extension Act, a bill aiming to allocate $7 billion to extend the internet subsidy.

“[We obscure] the extraordinarily difficult choices that folks who can’t pay their bills at the end of the month have to make.

“The anxiety of juggling bills. The shame in not being able to get your son or daughter a new pair of shoes for school. The trauma, really, of wondering whether you’re going to be able to put that meal on the table,” Welch said. “That’s the reality of life for a lot of Americans.”

He shed light on the bill’s holdup caused by Republican senators who oppose the extension of the program. “My colleagues claim they have a study suggesting [the ACP extension] won’t have an impact,” Welch said, countering this by stressing that for individuals living on the margin, “everything makes a difference.” 

A discharge petition that would force a House vote on the $7-billion measure is currently live for signatories. The petition will have to garner 218 signatures to force the House floor vote.

Speaking on behalf of the White House’s National Economic Council, deputy director Jon Donenberg emphasized that the phasing out of ACP “shouldn’t be acceptable to any of us.

“Affordable, reliable, high-speed internet is essential in modern America,” Donenberg said. “This is not a luxury. It is a requirement for Americans to be able to effectively participate in school and to do their jobs. 

“This program is having an enormous effect, and unfortunately if it disappears over 15 million families could be at risk of losing their internet connections,” Donenberg said. He referenced a recent FCC survey that revealed more than three-quarters of ACP households state that losing the program benefit will disrupt their internet service.

Donenberg said that President Joe Biden sees the Affordable Connectivity Program as a key pillar in achieving the administration’s goal of Internet for All by 2030, which is why the White House has been advocating since October for the program to be refunded.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said at Tuesday’s rally. The commission began echoing the White House’s calls for ACP funding early this year.

Rally participants were encouraged to continue making noise for the program’s continuation by reaching out to members of Congress to rescue the program. They launched the web site to promote this initiative. 

A revised bill introduced in the Senate on Friday hints at the possibility of funding the ACP through a spectrum bill. This proposed legislation would restore the FCC’s authority to auction off spectrum bands and provide funding for rip-and-replace initiatives, in addition to allocating $7 billion to extend the ACP. The Senate Commerce Committee will take the measure introduced by committee chair Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, up for a vote on Wednesday. 

Members of Congress could take advantage of either the ACP dispatch petition or Cantwell’s bill to prevent internet service disruptions for nearly 15 million American households.