Will the Affordable Connectivity Program get an extension?

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    The rising cost of living and the reliance on internet connections during the COVID-19 pandemic led to the creation of the Affordable Connectivity Program back in 2021. This program provides a $30 monthly subsidy for internet service from a participating ISP and a one-time $100 credit towards the purchase of a computer, tablet, or phone. Although the plan was primarily aimed at providing home internet, the subsidy could even apply to many cellphone plans as well. Unfortunately, as the program was not intended as a long-term solution, its funding is now running low and is set to run out completely by the end of April.

    Is there any chance the program will be renewed, and do you have any alternative options if you rely on the discount to afford service? Let’s take a closer look.

    How many people currently rely on the ACP?

    According to the FCC, there are 23 million American households are currently enrolled in the program, with the vast majority living in rural areas. This makes sense for a few reasons. First, rural communities tend to have more low-income citizens. Second, rural internet can cost double, triple, or higher than what most folks pay in the cities and suburbs. It’s unclear what percentage of these users would lose internet service without the subsidy, though the FCC says that over 1,700 internet providers will be affected by the change and “may cut off service to households no longer supported by the program.”

    Could the federal government extend the program any longer?

    The only way the ACP will remain in place is if it can secure government funding, but thankfully there’s already progress being made here. Previously there was a push to introduce a $6 billion extension, even if it made no real traction. Now a brand new bill has been introduced to Congress aiming to provide a $7 billion dollar extension. This new bill is the product of bipartisan cooperation between lawmakers in the House and Senate plan and will reportedly be called the Affordable Connectivity Extension Act.

    The big problem is that not every lawmaker was satisfied with the way ACP was reported on in the first place, with some Republicans claiming it didn’t fulfill its obligation to report statistics on who signed up for the program, such as who didn’t have internet before versus those that had previously subscribed. That means there’s going to be pushback as each party attempts to make changes in favor of their respective positions.

    What are the chances this new Extension Act will pass through smoothly? As with most things in government, not so high. There are people on both sides of the party fence who want to offer some kind of extension or a new program that helps people afford the web. After all, the world has become increasingly reliant on the web in the last few years and the cost of inflation makes this added burden even more difficult for those on a low income.

    There is bipartisan support for extending the ACP, but there remain significant hurdles nonetheless.

    Of course, many oppose the program completely and they will put up a fight. The biggest argument against the program is that most of the subscribers already had broadband prior to its introduction, so these detractors claim its a waste of money. Those who support the program are quick to point out that it doesn’t matter if it didn’t attract that many new subscribers, the point is that the internet has become more crucial for survival in today’s world and yet rent, bills, and the cost of food are at a long-time high which might force low-income subscribers to cancel service to just keep the electricity on, a roof overhead, and a fridge full of food. Granted $30 doesn’t help much, but any relief is welcome for those who are struggling in today’s economy.

    Odds are there will eventually be a compromise that leads to an extension or a whole new program will take its place. What’s less clear is if any of this can happen in the short time frame the program is expected to expire. It’s very possible the program could expire and a new one will take its place much later, even though we hope Congress moves fast to address the issue.

    We’ll be sure to update this guide as we learn more about the current bill’s fate and learn more about the potential future of the ACP.

    Are there any alternatives to the ACP?

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    Unfortunately, there aren’t any official programs that can fully replace ACP’s discount. It’s possible you can change your ISP to save some money or you can pick a cheaper phone service provider, but that’s not a great long-term solution either and means you might have to settle for service that’s not as good as you had before. While it’s not as helpful as ACP, there is one government program that can help a little known as Lifeline Assistance Support.

    If you are already on ACP you may have Lifeline Support already, but that’s not true in all cases. This is an older program that dates back to 1985 and was originally aimed specifically at providing phone service subsidies. It provides a much smaller discount than ACP at just $9.25 per month, but it can be applied to both broadband and mobile internet plans. Unlike the ACP, this program won’t ever expire as it is run through the FCC and is funded indefinitely by fees to major telecoms. There are even free internet providers through the program, such as Assurance Wireless.

    If you don’t already have Lifeline Assistance Support, you can sign up directly at the Lifeline website.

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