In Year-End Message, FCC Chairwoman Urges Affordable Connectivity Funding

The low-income internet subsidy could run out of funding as early as April 2024.

In Year-End Message, FCC Chairwoman Urges Affordable Connectivity Funding
Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel from December 2022

WASHINGTON, December 29, 2023 – Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel again called for Congress to fund the Affordable Connectivity Program.

In a year in review note published Friday, Rosenworcel touted the FCC’s efforts to promote the ACP, which provides a $30 monthly internet discount to low-income

households. She noted the more than $77 million in ACP outreach grants – money for organizations to advertise the program and get eligible households enrolled –  the Commission awarded in 2023 and the 7 million new households that signed up for the program, bringing the total to more than 22 million.

“But our progress here cannot slow down – we need help from Congress to keep this groundbreaking program going,” she wrote.

The ACP was set up with a $14.6 billion allocation from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act. About $3.6 billion of that remains, according to a monitoring tool developed by the advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Rosenworcel testified to the Senate in September that the Commission expects that money to dry up as early as April 2024.

Republican leaders on the House and Senate commerce committees expressed some skepticism about the program in a December 18 letter to Rosenworcel, calling the ACP “wasteful” because many enrolled low-income households were able to subscribe to broadband before receiving the subsidy. The FCC’s estimates put the number at 78 to 80,  Rosenworcel testified at a November House oversight hearing, but she noted the figures are not exact, as providers are not required to collect that information when someone enrolls.

President Joe Biden asked Congress in October for $6 billion to keep the fund afloat through 2024. Bipartisan groups of lawmakers and broadband industry groups have also pushed for Congress to refund the program, saying it will be an important tool for closing the digital divide and ensuring low-income subscribers stay online.

Providers who build new infrastructure with money from the Infrastructure Act’s $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program will be required to participate in the ACP, which experts have said would help stabilize revenue for ISPs who build in the hard-to-serve areas targeted by BEAD.

Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, hinted at introducing a bill before the new year to address the impending ACP shortfall during the FCC oversight hearing, but the legislation has not yet materialized.

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