Push for More ACP Funding, Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force, Great Plains Communications’ Indiana Expansion

Some are projecting that ACP funding will run out early next year.

Push for More ACP Funding, Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force, Great Plains Communications’ Indiana Expansion
Photo of Rep. Josh Gottheimer in 2019 by New Jersey National Guard

August 22, 2023 – A coalition of 45 bipartisan members of Congress, including 29 Democrats and 16 Republicans, jointly signed a letter dated August 17 urging House and Senate leadership to prioritize the replenishment of funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program in the upcoming government appropriation bill.

Spearheaded by Representatives Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., the letter underscored the continuing significance of ACP subsidies, which provide low-income families with monthly internet discounts of $30 and $75 and a one-time $100 discount on connected devices.

“One in five American households lack access to broadband,” read the letter. “Nearly 40 percent of eligible Americans rely on ACP to maintain internet access and that number is rapidly growing.”

The most recent data show that ACP has connected more than 20 million households out of the 48.6 million eligible. The signup number is expected to grow as the Federal Communications Commission, the agency tasked with administering the program’s funding, has just announced a new round of outreach grants as part of its effort to bring more people to ACP.

However, the influx of new applicants has also put pressure on the program’s remaining funding as the allocated $14 billion budget is expected by some to dry up in early 2024, creating “urgent need” for Congress to address the potential shortfall, read the letter.

“Connecting every American to high-speed, affordable broadband requires a public private partnership, and it is the federal government’s responsibility to provide secure and reliable investments,” it continued. “Failure to extend funding would not only leave millions of families without access to the internet but also hinder our long-term competitiveness as a nation.”

The letter adds its voice to a chorus of appeals for additional ACP funding that span beyond the telecom sector to include experts and lawmakers, all of whom share concerns that insufficient funding might obstruct the continued expansion of broadband access and perpetuate the digital divide.

Precision Ag term to be extended

The head of the FCC announced Monday the commission’s intent to renew the term of the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Task Force for the third time, as the current term is scheduled to expire in 2023.

Established under the 2018 Farm Bill, the task force works closely with the Department of Agriculture to offer recommendations for the FCC on the deployment of broadband services to optimize decision-making in agriculture production.

The task force’s effective term concludes every two years, unless the commission opts to renew it for subsequent terms until its scheduled termination in January 2025. And that’s exactly what the commission intends to do, it said.

“Today’s farmers and ranchers rely on high-speed internet to make the best use of connected tools to efficiently run their businesses and meet the demand for food to sustain our communities,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release.  “I am calling on the Task Force to look closely at the link between connectivity and agricultural sustainability, to see how best to leverage innovation to improve food production for the future.”

The agency also urged representatives from diverse and historically underrepresented communities to submit applications for membership in the task force, due September 20, 2023.

Great Plains Communications’ Indiana expansion

Fiber internet service provider Great Plains Communications announced Tuesday its expansion into six additional counties in Indiana as part of its ongoing effort to connect unserved and underserved locations in the region.

Upon completion, residents will get access to symmetrical speeds of up to 1 Gigabit for both download and upload, while businesses will have access up to 100 Gigabit, read the press release. These services will be available in the communities of Aurora, Vevay, Bartholomew, Decatur, Franklin and Ripley.

“Our company is pleased to power the fiber-driven services that enable working and learning from home, advance healthcare and education, extend the reach and capabilities of businesses and empower growth opportunities in our Indiana footprint,” said Todd Foje, CEO of Great Plains Communications.

The company said it has obtained part of the financing through the Indiana’s Next Level Connections Broadband Grant Program, a $1-billion statewide infrastructure program to bring high-quality broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved parts of Indiana.

The project marks the most recent expansion of the Nebraska-based company in Indiana, which has covered more than 600 underserved homes and businesses across the state.

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