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  • The Center for Rural Homelessness

What is the Affordable Connectivity Program?

By: Katie Baughman, Policy Intern



OVERVIEW


The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), provides increased access to broadband for low-income families and individuals. ACP provides a discount of $30 a month towards internet service for low-income families and an increased $75 a month for families on Tribal lands. In order to qualify, families must fall below 200% of the poverty line. Pell Grant recipients, SNAP and Medicaid participants, or families receiving federal housing assistance also qualify. Since August 2023, ACP further provides up to $75 a month for families and individuals in high-cost rural areas, defined as unserved areas where building out broadband is higher than the average cost of building out broadband. Households with ACP benefits do cover the cost of broadband above the $30 discount, however, and still pay an estimated median of $40 a month for broadband. ACP also provides a one-time benefit of $100 towards the purchase of a laptop, computer, or tablet for enrolled families, allowing families not only greater access to internet service but also to resources that utilize the internet.


ACP was authorized by Congress in 2021, under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. It is an extension and modification of the former Emergency Broadband Benefit program. Upon authorization, ACP received $14 Billion in initial funding. ACP partners with participating providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Spectrum. FCC rules ensure that ACP-receiving households have access to services regardless of their credit or prior debts, that they are able to switch providers, that ACP benefits aren’t reliant on more expensive or lower-quality service plans, and that households aren’t liable for early termination fees. ACP has been in operation since January of 2022, and currently has more than 20 million enrolled households. Currently, the cost of broadband is the biggest reason families across the US lack internet access, and ACP aims to reduce this cost, increasing low-income households’ access to internet services. 


HOW DOES THIS AFFECT RURAL AREAS?


Lack of access to internet service hugely harms rural America, with households in remote areas disproportionately lacking broadband internet. As of 2021, about three in ten rural households report having no broadband internet, as opposed to less than two in ten suburban households. Additionally, rural areas have less access to free internet provided at other locations, like restaurants, coffee shops, and libraries. Then, programs like the ACP, which increase access to broadband internet, are incredibly important in fighting against this resource divide. ACP additionally specifically provides extra for rural areas, which are disproportionately “high cost” broadband areas, thus mitigating some of the additional costs associated with internet in rural communities. 

While broadband is often less accessible in rural communities, access is also an especially valuable resource: internet access can provide work, school, and healthcare opportunities that are less accessible to remote, low-income rural communities. For example, working from home can be greatly beneficial, as low-income rural communities face a lack of nearby high-paying job opportunities. Additionally, telehealth is an essential resource for many families in rural America who live far from a primary care provider; it allows for lower healthcare costs and greater access to many healthcare resources. Telehealth can be especially helpful for more specialty healthcare services that aren’t available regularly in rural communities. 


However, while ACP has worked to provide affordable access to existing broadband opportunities, many especially remote rural areas still lack broadband infrastructure, meaning that these rural Americans still go without access to the internet.

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