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Pandemic-era internet discount program may end this spring as funds run out

The Affordable Connectivity Program serves almost 72,000 households in Utah

By Alixel Cabrera - Utah News Dispatch | Jan 29, 2024

Charles Krupa, Associated Press

A router and internet switch are displayed in East Derry, N.H., June 19, 2018.

A COVID-era program allowed 22.5 million low-income households across the country to get discounts on internet services. But, the funds allocated for it are running out and if Congress doesn’t take action, the program may end this spring.

The Affordable Connectivity Program, a high-speed internet initiative, provides discounts of $30 to $75 a month on internet bills. It also allows a one-time discount on the purchase of a laptop, desktop or tablet computer.

Utah has received more than $33 million for the program to fund the discount in almost 72,000 households, a White House fact sheet reads.

Internet providers have already sent a notice to customers warning them about the potential end of the program at the request of the Federal Communications Commission, said Ariane Schaffer, government affairs and public policy manager at Google Fiber.

“We would really like to see Congress find a permanent home for the affordable connectivity program,” Schaffer said. “It has helped so many people, so many families across the country.”

The White House included the program in its list of critical needs, asking Congress for $6 billion to maintain it through December 2024.

If Congress doesn’t grant the funds, the Communications Commission will stop enrolling new people into the program on Feb. 7.

As the need for internet connectivity climbs with more people working and learning remotely and even attending appointments with their health care providers online, the program has had an effect on economic growth, Schaffer said.

“This is allowing folks to engage with society, engage with their communities, through school, jobs, all of these benefits,” she said, “and it allows entrepreneurs and businesses who are in underserved communities (to make) sure that folks can stay online.”

Many internet providers offer access to the discount, which works similar to a voucher program. Veterans and those whose income is at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines, or who participate in certain assistance initiatives including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid, qualify for the affordable connectivity program.

The initiative was launched as part of the Emergency Broadband Benefits, a Trump administration initiative during the 2020 pandemic, and it was restructured into its current form as part of the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Schaffer urged Congress to fund the program and make it permanent, rather than having to be asked for appropriations every year.

“We really see broadband connectivity as leveling the playing field and really promoting education for everyone,” she said.

Utah News Dispatch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news source covering government, policy and the issues most impacting the lives of Utahns.


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