More than 250 Groups Urge Lawmakers to Sign ACP Discharge Petition

The measure would force a House vote without the blessing of Speaker Mike Johnson.

More than 250 Groups Urge Lawmakers to Sign ACP Discharge Petition
Photo of Heather Franklin, internet campaign director for Free Press Action, via Free Press

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2024 – More than 250 advocacy groups and local governments sent a letter on Monday urging House members to back an effort to force a floor vote on shoring up the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, introduced a discharge petition last week that, if signed by a majority of the House, would force the ACP Extension Act out of committee to be voted on by the entire chamber. The bill, introduced by Clarke in January, would infuse the program with $7 billion.

Without that money, 23 million low-income households could face higher internet bills. Stood up with $14 billion from the 2021 Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the ACP provides them with a $30-$75 discount each month but will soon run dry without additional funding.

April is the last month in which providers will be fully reimbursed for their ACP-participant subscribers. A reduced level of support will be available in May, after which the program’s money will be fully exhausted. Providers who opt into the May support won’t be able to bill ACP subscribers more than if they received the full subsidy.

“We urge you to sign the discharge petition put forth by Rep. Clarke because time is of the essence,” the groups wrote. “We cannot let these families lose their vital connections merely because Congress failed to vote on an immensely popular bill with a bipartisan majority’s support.”

The bill does have 224 cosponsors, more than the required 218. That number includes 22 Republicans, but the petition’s success would depend on at least some of them taking an additional step against party leadership and attaching their name. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, has so far been unwilling to allow a vote on the measure as his party’s right flank continues to oppose government spending and other Republicans express concern about wastefulness in the program.

Keeping the ACP afloat is otherwise broadly popular, with support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, consumer advocacy groups, and the telecom industry.

The Joe Biden administration was also relying on the ACP to bolster the $42.5-billion broadband expansion effort stood up alongside it. The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program’s affordability requirements were drawn up with the subsidy in mind, as it makes households in the rural areas targeted by BEAD more likely to get and stay subscribed – in turn making a better business case for providers to build out networks. 

Efforts to save the program have been going on for months, but legislative vehicles for funding have so far proved fruitless. The spending package approved last month omitted any ACP money despite calls from the Biden administration and Clarke’s bill has stalled in the House Appropriations Committee since its introduction in January.

The discharge petition must sit in the House Rule Committee for seven legislative days before it can collect signatures, and it would have to sit another seven legislative days after getting 218 signatures before signers could move to force a floor vote. The Senate would then still have to pass the measure.

“There is absolutely no time to waste. If Congress doesn’t act, in a matter of days the internet bills for one out of every six homes in the country will go up,” Heather Franklin, Free Press Action’s internet campaign director, said in a statement. “That means millions of households across the country could lose their ability to access job opportunities, education, health care, online banking and government services, as well as their ability to stay informed about what’s happening in their communities.” Free Press Action helped organize the letter.

Lawmakers have discussed earmarking the proceeds from Federal Communications Commission spectrum auctions for ACP funding, as well as folding the program into the commission’s Universal Service Fund – which is itself faced with dwindling contributions and the subject of reform efforts.

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