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FCC says low-income internet subsidies are endangered as funding runs low

FCC says low-income internet subsidies are endangered as funding runs low

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Lawmakers plan to submit a bill tomorrow to save the program, which the FCC can only afford to run until April.

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that it will be forced to sunset its internet subsidy for low-income families, known as the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), in May if it doesn’t receive additional funding. The program is currently only funded through April this year, despite a White House push for a $6 billion extension.

CNN reports that today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House and Senate plan to submit a bill requesting its extension. The extension bill, reportedly called the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, will be introduced in Congress tomorrow to provide a $7 billion extension for the program.

But the bill will have to overcome objections from Republicans in the House and Senate with oversight of the ACP, who say the agency hasn’t fulfilled its obligation to report statistics about who has signed up for the program, including who had no internet access prior to signing up.

The FCC wrote that “nearly 23 million households” have enrolled in the program, which involves 1,700 internet providers. The agency also pointed out that “rural households have enrolled at a higher rate” than those in urban areas.

The Affordable Connectivity Program launched in 2021 as part of the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill. Qualifying households can get a $30 monthly subsidy toward internet service (up to $75 for certain households on tribal lands) and as much as $100 in discounts on computer hardware. Programs aimed at expanding broadband internet access have been a thrust of Biden’s agenda since he took office.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel wrote in a letter to Congress that “millions of households” would lose the $30-a-month subsidy if funding isn’t approved before April. As ArsTechnica noted, Republican lawmakers who oppose the program called it “wasteful” in a previous letter to the FCC last month. They asserted that “the vast majority of tax dollars have gone to households that already had broadband” as proof the program is unjustified, saying that the households that would lose the subsidy would still keep their internet access.

Despite those claims, there’s still an apparent need for the program. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration published survey results that found that in 2022, 18 percent of US households said they didn’t have internet at home because it was simply too expensive. 45 percent of those who said so made less than $25,000 per year in total household income, and the average amount they were willing to pay was $15.69 per month.