Affordable Connectivity Cutoff Notices Spark Effort to Save Program and Preserve Access

The first of a series of deadlines on Thursday signaled the onset of cutoff notices.

Affordable Connectivity Cutoff Notices Spark Effort to Save Program and Preserve Access
Photo of "No Wi-Fi" sign by Elliott Brown

WASHINGTON, January 25, 2024 – One in six American households received official notice from their internet service provider alerting them that the government subsidy program helping them connect to the internet is rapidly running out of money.

The first of a series of deadlines on Thursday signaled the onset of notices to program participants regarding the gradual wind-down and potential phase-out of the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Dubbed “Don’t Disconnect US Day” by advocacy groups, for many the day was dedicated to concerted efforts to mobilize everyone concerned about preserving affordable internet access to contact their respective members of Congress, and urge them to endorse the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act. This legislation would allocate $7 billion to extend the ACP through 2024.

They launched the web site to promote reaching out to members of Congress to rescue the program.

During one of several events organized by digital equity advocates on Thursday, a joint press conference highlighted the extensive efforts of a select group of outreach coordinators who have worked over the past two years to enroll households in the ACP.

GWI’s CEO Kerem Durdag emphasized the time-consuming nature of assisting a family in enrolling in ACP, stating that each registration takes up to 55 minutes on average. Durdag pointed out the substantial challenge of reassigning individuals and families once the program ends, emphasizing that it’s not an immediate process.

“Once the program goes away, it’s a massive, Sisyphean task to reassign these individuals and families,” Durdag stressed. “It is imperative this program is continued. It is a civil rights issue.”

Mia Purcell, vice president of economic development for Community Concepts Finance Corporation, emphasized that for households teetering on the edge, $30 can mean the difference between having access to necessities like food, medicine, heat, electricity and more. A significant majority of the families Purcell assisted in enrolling conveyed that supporting the expense of a monthly internet connection is somewhat to very difficult for them.

Evelyn Lewey, digital navigator for the National Digital Equity Center, highlighted the challenges she encountered when working with Native nations on reservation lands. These challenges included literacy barriers, mistrust with government, digital literacy challenges, and limited device access. Some individuals from these communities required three to four sessions to enroll, with some lacking access to cell phones or email.

Lewey also highlighted that her work involved visiting the homes of individuals who were shut-ins. She observed that through the program, these individuals were no longer isolated from their community, family, and friends.

Aaron Alberico, a spokesperson for the Affordable Broadband Campaign, highlighted the confusion and anxiety individuals face as they receive notifications today. He reported some individuals who are beneficiaries of the program saying that it serves as a vital connection to everything including their families. “If it’s taken away, it will feel like being locked in a pitch-black room with no escape,” one person said.

The conclusion of the ACP has been labeled a civil rights issue by the program’s outreach coordinators, given that for 22.8 million participating American households it serves as a crucial link to healthcare, education, and the digital economy.

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