With No Additional Funding, Affordable Connectivity Program Ends

The FCC announced that the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) officially ended on June 1, 2024, after the Republicans in Congress failed to approve additional funding. The agency had already imposed an enrollment freeze in early February to help with the accurate forecasting of the funding draw-down and to smooth the administration of the ACP’s end. 

Here is some background on the program and its demise:

  • The ACP was an FCC benefit program that helped to ensure that households could afford the broadband they needed for work, school, healthcare and more.
  • The benefit provided a discount of up to $30 per month toward Internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands.
  • Eligible households could receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contributed more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
  • The Affordable Connectivity Program was limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.

As it became clear that funds for the program were drying up, the Commission stopped accepting new applications and enrollments on February 7, 2024. The last fully funded month of the program was April 2024.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel sent a letter to Congress pleading for additional funding for the ACP.

There continues to be a tremendous need for the ACP and the consistent, reliable benefit it offers to help low-income households in rural, suburban, and urban America get online and stay online. As my May 1, 2024, letter explained, for the more than 23 million households that count on the ACP, the end of the program means increased bills and increased disconnection. In fact, 77 percent of ACP households in a Commission survey stated that losing the benefit would disrupt their service by making them change their plans or lead to them dropping internet service entirely.

Many of these households have written to the Commission to let them know how much this program means to them. A consistent theme is that many ACP recipients are seniors on fixed incomes struggling to pay competing bills and make ends meet. Nearly half of ACP households are led by someone over the age of 50. As my April 2, 2024, letter explained, a Commission survey revealed that nearly 75 percent of households in this age group rely on their ACP supported internet service to access healthcare. Nearly three-quarters of these households also indicated that a $30 monthly increase in their broadband bills would force them to make changes to the broadband service they receive with the ACP’s help, including canceling it completely.

Clearly, the ACP was and is extremely popular, so why did Republicans choose to oppose additional funds for it? They claimed that the program was rife with fraud and managed ineffectively by the FCC. Senators John Thune and Ted Cruz explained that a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that,

the FCC is not effectively detecting fraud in the ACP, which is designed to provide eligible households with a discount on broadband services and connected devices…[It is] incredibly concerning that the FCC has failed to establish a process that regularly assesses fraud risks within the ACP. It is incumbent upon the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FCC, to have an oversight hearing to address GAO’s report and hold the FCC accountable to American taxpayers.

What will happen next? As a temporary solution, many ISPs have announced programs that low-income consumers can migrate to. In the longer term, a replacement will be found. This program will likely have strict eligibility requirements with participants regularly monitored by the FCC. It is also possible that the $30 per month benefit will be reduced if Republicans get their way. Finally, the broadband benefit in the Lifeline program may be eliminated, since in many ways it is duplicative to the ACP.