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Digital Inclusion

Roslyn Layton: Benefits of ACP Extend Beyond People Who Subscribe to Broadband

Largest beneficiaries of ACP do not participate financially in federal programs designed to promote broadband adoption.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Roslyn Layton, senior vice president of Strand Consult

Broadband Breakfast has been covering the U.S. efforts to support broadband adoption for some time. The pandemic made everyone aware of the need to connect all Americans to broadband as it became absolutely essential for work, school, healthcare, public safety, e-government, and so much more. Hence Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program and appropriated a monthly subsidy of $30 to eligible families which has brought and kept more than 18 million households online since 2021.

ACP is the best anti-poverty program for the money

People use broadband to get a job, start a business, and learn new skills. Financial support to low-income Americans for broadband connectivity is an important, accepted social good, evidenced by the bipartisan support of the Universal Service Fund for almost 30 years. All Americans are better off when more people can have employment, health, and education. Notably accessing these services by broadband uses less government resources than in person.

Data and learning from ACP is critical to broadband policy researchers like John Horrigan at the Benton Institute, the Pew Broadband Access InitiativeHernan Galperin at USC Annenberg, and the Government Accountability OfficePaul Garnett, and the American Consumer Institute which just convened an event on the topic. Former Federal Communications Commission Mike O’Reilly observed that the key argument for the ACP is upward mobility.

Randy May of the Free State foundation noted, “the evidence shows that in both rural and urban areas, and in both so-called Red and Blue states, the Affordable Connectivity Program is enabling millions of low-income persons to obtain a broadband connection that otherwise they might not be able to acquire.”

ACP demonstrates policy improvements from decades of suboptimal broadband subsidies programs like Lifeline. ACP works in part because it offers a meaningful benefit directly to consumers with minimal government intervention.

Just as vouchers enable school choice, vouchers enable broadband choice, allowing consumers to select their preferred provider and technology, creating broadband competition in the process.

The benefits of ACP flow to more than just those who it helps subscribe

However beneficial, ACP funds will run out before the end of the year, threatening to pull the rug out from under millions of U.S. households who rely on ACP to afford broadband.  Congress recognizes the importance of the program and the upward mobility that internet connectivity enables. Programs like ACP can pay for themselves over time with targeted reforms to modernize broadband subsidy programs.

As my new research shows, the largest beneficiaries of the ACP are America’s tech platforms Alphabet, Meta, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft. Together they earn hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, annually on each new American who adopts the internet.

However, these companies do not participate financially in federal programs designed to promote broadband adoption. Whereas telecom providers have been paying billions of dollars for years to support the USF, universal service subsidies to fund broadband for rural areas, school, libraries, hospitals, and low-income Americans, tech platforms have contributed zero to such programs.

Yet tech companies get the benefit of any new user who comes online from these programs. My new report describes the ways that these companies could contribute financially, continue to enjoy the financial benefits of new internet users, and minimize pass-through to end users.

Congress and the FCC recognize that ACP should continue and that it should be reviewed as part of the larger Congressional efforts to reform USF and to conduct oversight of broadband subsidies. Kudos to Senators Ben Luján, D-N.M., and John Thune, R-S.D., who have launched a bipartisan working group on these issues.

ACP should not be allowed to run out. Congress should appropriate bridge funding for ACP while it works on long term reforms which will take time. In the interim, our nation can’t afford to unplug millions of U.S. households.

Roslyn Layton, PhD, Senior Vice President of Strand Consult and Visiting Researcher at Aalborg University Copenhagen, is an international technology expert focused on the economics, security, and geopolitics of broadband internet technology. She has testified before the U.S. Congress on competition in wireless technologiesspectrum reform, the security advantages of 5G versus Wi-Fi, and the empirical and ethical case for fair cost recovery for broadband networks. She is also a senior contributor to Forbes, a Fellow of the National Security Institute at George Mason University, and a Senior Advisor to the Lincoln Policy Network. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Digital Inclusion

Broadband Association Argues Providers Not Engaged in Rollout Discrimination

Trade group says telecoms are not discriminating when they don’t build in financially difficult areas.



Image of redlining from historic map of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation of Richmond, Virginia, from PBS.

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2023 – Broadband association US Telecom sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission last week saying internet service providers don’t build in certain areas because it is financially difficult, not because they are being discriminatory.

The FCC proposed two definitions of digital discrimination in December 2022: The first definition includes practices that, absent technological or economic constraints, produce differential outcomes for individuals based a series of protected characteristics, including income, race, and religion. The second definition is similar but adds discriminatory intent as a necessary factor.

“To make business determinations regarding capital allocation, an ISP must consider a host of commercially important factors, none of which involve discrimination,” said the September 12 letter from USTelecom, which represents providers including AT&T, Verizon, Lumen, Brightspeed, and Altafiber.

“As the Commission has consistently recognized, such deployment is extremely capital-intensive…This deployment process is therefore subject to important constraints related to technical and economic feasibility” added the letter.

US Telecom explained that ISPs’ will choose to invest where they expect to see a return on the time and money they put into building broadband.

The association added that factors like population density, brand reputation, competition and the availability of the providers’ other services all go into deciding where broadband gets deployed.

“The starting point of the Commission’s approach to feasibility should be a realistic acknowledgement that all ISPs must prioritize their resources, even those that invest aggressively in deployment,” added the letter.

The association also highlighted the fact that it hopes to see as little government intervention in broadband deployment activity as possible, a concern that has been echoed by lobbyists before.

“Rather than attempting to use Section 60506 to justify taking extra-statutory intrusive actions that could paradoxically undermine ongoing broadband investment, the Commission must enable ISPs to make decisions based on their own consideration of the kinds of feasibility factors discussed above” read the letter.

Section 60506 of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act says that the FCC may implement new policies to ensure equal access to broadband.

The FCC is also looking to develop guidelines for handling digital discrimination complaints filed against broadband providers.

USTelecom said that ISPs should be allowed to demonstrate financial and logistical concerns as a rebuttal to those claims, in addition to disclosing other reasons for directing investment elsewhere to demonstrate non-discriminatory practice.

Reasons for investment elsewhere would include rough terrain, low-population density, MTE owners not consenting to deployment, zoning restrictions, or historical preservation review.

“To aid in the success of the Infrastructure Act and facilitate equal access, the Commission must continue to foster an environment conducive to ISP investment in the high-speed broadband infrastructure that Congress rightly views as central to our connected future,” concluded the letter.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC and HUD Partner to Promote Internet Subsidies for Housing Assistance Recipients

The effort is aimed at raising awareness about federal internet subsidies among housing assistance recipients.



Photo of Marcia L. Fudge, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development

WASHINGTON, August 18, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on Monday a partnership to promote the Affordable Connectivity Program to people receiving federal housing assistance.

The promotion efforts will include promoting the FCC program at public housing properties, joint enrollment events, and increased collaboration on messaging campaigns.

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge touted the agency’s partnership with the FCC at a community event in Seattle, Washington, and encouraged residents to sign up.

The announcement comes a month after the launch of White House’s “Online for All” campaign, an effort to raise nationwide awareness of the ACP.

Part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the ACP monthly discounts on internet service of between $30 for low-income American and $75 for Tribal residents.

The $14 billion program is serving more than 20 million households as of August 14, roughly a quarter of whom had no internet access at all prior to receiving ACP benefits.

A monitoring tool developed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a community advocacy group, estimates that $6.3 billion in ACP funds have been used up.

The remaining $7.7 billion is expected to dry up in 2024. Lawmakers have called for funding increases, citing the racial divide in internet access – 71% of Black households and 65% of hispanic households have broadband access, compared to 80% of white households –  that could worsen in the absence of ACP discounts.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, released in July a report calling for Congress to eliminate old broadband subsidies that have been rendered redundant by the $42.5 billion BEAD program and divert the funds to the ACP.

“Public energy and time in this space would be much better served fine-tuning and scaling digital inclusion efforts than being obligated to lobby for a program whose continuation should be a no-brainer,” wrote Joe Kane, director of broadband and spectrum policy at the ITIF and author of the report.

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Digital Inclusion

Affordable Connectivity Program Tools Show One in Four Applicants Newbies

Data reveal the program’s benefit is reaching the lowest income households



Screenshot of Katherine Aquino during the webinar

WASHINGTON, August 18, 2023 – Roughly a quarter of applicants to the Affordable Connectivity Program did not previously have internet connection at home, said panelists at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s webinar on August 11.

Describing the statistic as a “surprising” revelation, Katherine Aquino, a data analyst at the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, drew attention to her organization’s data tool, which tracks participation in the ACP – a program designed to provide monthly internet bill discounts of $30 and $75 to low-income Americans.

John Horrigan, senior fellow at the nonprofit Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, nodded to the data, adding that Benton’s ACP Enrollment Performance Tool also found the same implication.

The tool indicates a positive association between poverty level and ACP enrollment, meaning the poorest zip codes have some of the highest ACP participation rates, he explained.

“This should be good news for policy makers,” added Horrigan. “It means the benefit is reaching the target population the policymakers have in mind.”

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Monday that about 20 million households have enrolled in the ACP, which accounts for nearly half of the total eligible households. The agency also emphasized its ongoing outreach efforts to encourage a higher number of registrations for the program.

However, an enrollment uptake does not necessarily translate to good news.

Another ACP data monitoring tool developed by the advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance paints a somewhat grim picture, estimating that as of August 2023, only approximately $6.3 billion in ACP funds remain out of the initially allocated $14 billion. 

Experts have also predicted the ACP will run out of funding in early 2024, depending on how fast new households would sign up for the program.

“There’s still maybe 63% of the ACP eligible households that are still not benefiting from a potentially $360 federal benefit that they could be receiving,” said Aquino.

Meanwhile, ACP’s future seems to hang in the balance as numerous calls for funding replenishment have met with a lack of response from the halls of Congress.

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