Millions Left with No Internet After End of Affordable Connectivity Program

by

News
Share On Social!

When the world shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, jobs went virtual and educational institutions switched to online learning. 

Many people struggled to financially to pay for Internet to meet these demands. 

In response to the need for affordable internet access, the government established the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program) to temporarily help low-income households pay for broadband service through reimbursement and discounts.  

For a long-term solution to the internet service affordability problem, Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to replace the EBB Program in late 2021. 

Funding for the program ended at the beginning of 2024, and the program provided its final month of assistance in April 2024, leaving thousands of low-income families without a way to pay for internet connectivity, which many see as a household necessity.  

Let’s dig into the ACP, how it assisted families, and the issue of internet access.  

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) 

The Federal Communications Commision (FCC) launched the ACP in November 2021, opening applications for enrollment began at the very end of the year. 

By February 2022, 10 million households had enrolled in the program, offering low-income households a discount of up to $30 per month and up to $75 for households on Tribal lands toward internet service, according to an FCC news release 

The ACP also allocated funds to provide eligible households with a one-time discount of up to $100 for the purchase of a laptop, desktop, or tablet from participating providers, given the purchaser puts more than $10 and less than $50 toward the price of the device.  

“No family should have to choose between paying for gas or groceries and their monthly internet bill, especially when a connection is essential for work, school, health care and more. But for far too many, the cost of internet service makes the connections we need for everyday life, out of reach,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in the news release. “Now with more than 10 million households enrolled, we’ve proven the need for this program, and we are continuing our efforts to ensure no community, no household, no one is left offline.” 

In addition to the ACP, the FCC established the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Program and the Your Home, Your Internet Pilot Program to increase awareness and reach out to households receiving other federal or state assistance. 

The ACP went through several amendments, which offered additional support and funding for outreach programs and supplying a larger discount of $75 a month for those living in high-cost areas, such as specific areas in Alaska, California, Missouri, Texas, and more. 

At the beginning of 2024, the FCC notified recipients and providers that they would be slowing the program down due to lack of funding from Congress.  

The final funds from the program were applied to April 2024 internet service bills.   

Consequences of Ending the ACP Program 

After announcing the end of the program, the FCC published results from a survey conducted about its impact, according to an FCC news release. 

The results of the December 2023 survey of ACP households shows that before the program, 68% had inconsistent or zero internet connectivity.  

Most respondents (80%) called affordability the main reason for their connectivity issues.  

Prior to receiving assistance through the program, 47% of all survey takers and 53% of rural survey takers said they had no connectivity or relied on a mobile service.  

The survey, which was conducted prior to the end of funding announcement, asked respondents about their access to the internet in the event the program should end.  

77% of survey takers said that losing the benefit would either greatly disrupt their service by making them change plans to something more affordable, and perhaps, less reliable, or drop service entirely.  

As far as usage by program recipients is concerned, 72% said they use ACP internet service to schedule or attend healthcare appointments, 48% use it for work or apply for jobs, and 75% use it to do schoolwork. 

At the time of publication, an estimated 23 million households were at risk of losing their internet connection.  

Importance of Equitible Internet Access 

Even before the pandemic, millions of Americans lacked access to broadband internet, including those living in rural areas, impoverished communities, and areas with large minority racial/ethnic populations. 

The virtual needs brought on by the pandemic exposed many of the nation’s internet connectivity inequities 

During the pandemic there was a heavy reliance on internet access to continue with day-to-day activities, such as work and school.  

In some cases, some individuals never went back to an in-person structure, creating a larger need for affordable and reliable internet access.  

Without access to the internet, students could fall behind in their education because they can’t complete schoolwork or attend online classes, and those who work in a virtual environment could be at risk of losing their jobs.  

When it comes to school, 58% of Latino parents feel that online schoolwork is particularly difficult because of technical problems, such as loading websites, according to the survey from Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors. 

Increased need for internet access has brought on higher internet and cell phone bills, including 51% of Latino survey takers.

 What’s more, 50% of Latino parents say they don’t have enough digital devices for everyone in their household, which poses a major problem when everyone needs one to complete work or school tasks.  

To keep people protected from COVID-19, many doctor’s appointments went virtual through telehealth, which also helped to eliminate barriers like transportation for healthcare for some. 

As a result of losing assistance, they may be forced to travel for healthcare, which is both costly and time consuming, and delay or forego regular visits and health screenings altogether. 

Those without reliable connectivity could be subject to other ill effects when seeking telehealth services. 

“Access to high-speed broadband internet continues to be a barrier for many rural telehealth programs. Lack of connectivity can hinder the implementation and expansion of telehealth programs that require live-video connections between patients and providers. Dropped calls and delays in video feeds can interrupt care delivery and lead to patient dissatisfaction with telehealth,” according to the Rural Health Information Hub. 

Some areas in the US don’t have the infrastructure to provide quality, affordable, and reliable internet access, like one rural area in Texas 

“Rural communities often don’t have near the funds or the resources as your more urban communities,” says Debbie Bresett, the executive director of Bastrop County Cares, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of the county’s citizens. 

Options for Affordable Service and Financial Assistance 

While the ACP has ended, you can still seek financial aid toward your internet bill.  

Those who have lost help through the ACP may be eligible for another government program that provides a small discount.  

Lifeline offers eligible consumers up to $9.25 off the cost of phone, internet, or bundled services 

If you’re living on Tribal lands, that cost can be up to $34.25. 

However, you must apply and provide your information.   

It’s also encouraged that ACP enrollees speak to their internet provider to examine more affordable plan options, according to the ACP website 

What Does Health Equity Look Like Where You Live?

The lack of internet service (stable or not) can endanger the health of an entire community 

In a digital age when almost everything is done online, communities without can indirectly deal with job, housing, education, and healthcare inequities, leading to worse health outcomes.  

Measure the health of your community by downloading a free Health Equity Report Card from Salud America! 

The Health Equity Report card can give you a rundown of where your community ranks when it comes to access to food, transportation, healthcare, and more.  

Use the data, maps, graphs, and charts contained in the Health Equity Report Card to figure out how internet access is affecting your community’s health and share it with others to initiate change where you live. 

GET YOUR HEALTH EQUITY REPORT CARD!

Explore More:

Health Equity

By The Numbers By The Numbers

142

Percent

Expected rise in Latino cancer cases in coming years

Share your thoughts