Internet Affordability program warrants extension

Published 5:21 pm Friday, April 26, 2024

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Since the pandemic (and perhaps even beginning before then), people have come to realize that internet has become more of a necessary utility in our lives – like water and electricity – instead of just a mere luxury.

People use it for so many things these days, from online banking, attending telehealth appointments, and working remotely to shopping, enjoying social media, and accessing a wide range of information. (Sorry to encyclopedia salesmen of old, but it’s nice to have information at my fingertips that doesn’t require it taking up a whole bookshelf.) In fact, it’s difficult to go throughout the day now without using the internet at some point, whether that’s at work, school, or for personal business.

In the past few years, the state and federal government (and also local governments, to an extent) had been directing funding toward broadband expansion, especially in rural areas like here in the Roanoke-Chowan. Without that funding, I think many companies would have continued to overlook us and focus on building internet infrastructure where it’s easier. But we deserve to have internet access just as much as people who live in more populated areas too.

But the problem now is that, even with broadband internet becoming more readily available, it’s not always affordable for everyone. So the federal government came up with the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which helped people with low incomes get a monthly $30 discount on their internet bill. They could then spend their money on other necessities, such as food and gas, and still have the opportunity for internet access.

According to several sources I read, more than 23 million households across the United States qualified for and then signed up for ACP. Many are senior citizens or veterans, though the beneficiaries cover a wide swath of demographics. The program was so widely successful that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), which administers the program, has already run out of funding. April is the last month ACP households will get their full discount, though some may receive partial discounts in May.

After that, the people in the program have to figure out whether they can still afford their internet access. Some internet companies do offer other discounts for low-income households, at least, so not everyone will be out of luck.

It seems kind of silly to me that our country has been spending so much time and effort and money on expanding broadband to every last mile – i.e., to those of us who live in hard-to-reach rural areas – when the service will soon become too expensive for many living in those areas. It feels like leaving a job half done.

Brookings Institute, a nonprofit research group, wrote back in February that “everyone loses if the Affordable Connectivity Program ends.” As their article points out, access to broadband internet is increasingly important in our digital society, as it helps promote equitable economic and social outcomes for internet users and their families.

And it’s not just the internet users who would suffer from the loss of the ACP program. Brookings notes that without people subscribing to their services, internet companies could experience negative financial consequences too. Lower cost options often brought in new customers for them.

Additionally, organizations that work to provide services to people through internet access – such as schoolwork tutoring, virtual healthcare, workforce training, etc – may also lose access to the people they’re trying to reach as the Affordable Connectivity Program ends.

According to reporting from NC Newsline in early April, over 900,000 households in North Carolina have internet access thanks to ACP. Our congressional district (District 1) received the second highest amount of ACP funds (just under $50 million), with only District 7 (in the southeastern part of the state) receiving just over that amount.

Our newspaper also ran an article recently about how people would be affected by the end of ACP. One example pointed to a woman and her daughter who both have disabilities that require them to travel to a lot of medical appointments, such as physical therapy. With the $30 in savings from the ACP discount, she was able to spend that money on gas instead to get to those appointments. And with internet access, she was able to more easily access their medical records and to schedule telehealth appointments when possible.

She said continued internet access was “essential.”

According to data from a December 2023 survey conducted by the FCC, 68 percent of households said they had inconsistent or zero connectivity before ACP access, and 80 percent of those households said affordability was the reason why they didn’t have prior access. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of the responders said losing ACP benefits would disrupt their internet service (by changing their plan or dropping it entirely). And respondents also said they use the internet for critical services, with 72 percent saying they use it for healthcare appointments and 48 percent using it to complete work or apply for jobs.

In my opinion, it seems like it would be a good idea for Congress to approve more funding for the program. In January, a bill to provide $7 billion more for ACP was introduced. It has bipartisan support, but has yet to be adopted.

If they can’t agree to provide the program indefinitely, I think even providing a temporary funding extension would be helpful. At least until they come up with a better solution to making such an essential service accessible.

There are plenty of things we can probably just “make do without” in order to save money, but in our increasingly digital society, internet does not seem to be one of them. After all, even people signing up for ACP needed internet access to fill out the online application form.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.