For Arizonans, the need to pass extension of broadband affordability program is urgent

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Bill is a veteran living in Arizona and is just one of the 522,000 Affordable Connectivity Program subscribers across the state. He said the benefit helped keep him connected to the internet, but he will lose online access if this program is not renewed.

“As a veteran, losing the internet would be disastrous for me,” he said.

Tea Affordable Connectivity Program offered discounted internet access to over half a million households in Arizona. However, the program will end this month, decimating internet access for residents in marginalized communities across the state and affecting nationwide commerce.

Ilana Lowery

The ACP is a $14.2 billion federal program funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Eligible households receive a monthly discount of up to $30 or $75 on tribal lands. Enrollment was frozen in February; however, program funding will run out by May if the federal government does not renew it.

Common Sense Media has been deeply engaged in local efforts to ensure lower-income families have—and maintain—access to the internet. Despite the groundswell of momentum for qualifying households to subscribe to the program, the rug was pulled out from ACP outreach efforts when the FCC announced in mid-January that the ACP would be winding down.

Despite the February pause on ACP outreach, more than 522,000 Arizona households currently rely on ACP to help pay for internet access. Increased access doesn’t end with ACP enrollees. Communities with higher rates of ACP enrollment also had higher growth rates in broadband subscriptions overall, proving that the ACP increased broadband adoption writ large. Our own research found that ACP is key to maximizing the use of BEAD funds supporting rural broadband deployment efforts by driving down the cost of buildout by 25% per household.

That means increased access to health care, jobs, and education. A recent FCC consumer survey found that 80% of individuals cited “affordability” as the reason for having inconsistent or no service. According to the data, 77% of respondents would lose internet access or downgrade to a lower-quality service without continued ACP benefits; 72% of ACP participants go online for virtual health care appointments, almost half are applying for jobs or working remotely online; and 75% of users between 18 and 24 years old use their ACP benefits to complete schoolwork.

Congress can still act to save ACP. In January, the ACP Extension Act of 2024 was introduced in the House to provide the short-term funding necessary to continue the program through 2024 and keep half a million people in Arizona connected. The ACP Extension Act is overwhelmingly popular, garnering the support of over 224 Congressional co-sponsors and 400 organizations. The extension bill is bipartisan, with 64% of Republicans and 95% of Democrats supporting the measure to keep enrollees online. Forty-four percent of ACP enrollees live in Republican congressional districts, and 55% in Democratic congressional districts.

Despite its popularity, providers like Cox Communications, T-Mobile, and Verizon have already notified subscribers that they will lose their internet benefit — and perhaps their internet service — beginning next month, and the FCC initiated congressionally mandated requirements to close down the program responsibly . Internet service providers are not required to offer low-cost options once the ACP ends. And while some do, affordability remains difficult for many lower-income and rural families. While rural communities eagerly await the benefits of historic investments in broadband infrastructure deployment, our research found that the expiration of the ACP would increase buildout costs to providers and hinder the impact of these complementary programs.

During the pandemic, we learned how vital the internet is in our daily lives. Those who had internet service could transition to working from home, and students who had access could attend classes online—albeit difficult and often frustrating. The pandemic also highlighted the challenges for the unconnected—challenges the ACP sought to address.

The timing of ACP’s demise couldn’t be worse. Students are still in school and gearing up for summer programs. At a time when our students need every resource available, legislators must move quickly to extend the ACP.

Saving this program should be based on what has become known: Internet connection is critical in an increasingly digital society. If Congress fails to act, families and children will be left behind—and in the dark.

Ilana Lowery is the Arizona director of Common Sense Media.



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