Time and money are running out on a federal program that provides internet access to low-income households.
The Federal Communications Commission will stop accepting applications for the program on Feb. 7, because Congress hasn’t provided money to keep it going. And the 22 million US households that already signed up for the program, including 361,000 households in Massachusetts, will lose their broadband subsidies in April, as existing funds run out.
The Affordable Connectivity Program, enacted as part of the massive 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, set aside $14.7 billion in subsidies for basic broadband services and low-cost personal computers. Eligible families can get up to $30 a month to defray the cost of basic internet service, and a one-time discount of up to $100 on the purchase of a laptop, desktop, or tablet computer.
Families are eligible for the program if their household income falls below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or if someone in the household participates in a variety of federal assistance programs, such as Medicaid, the free school lunch program, or the SNAP food assistance program.
Most of the nation’s major home broadband providers offer low-cost services that are effectively free to consumers who receive the federal subsidy. For example, Comcast offers a basic broadband service with download speeds of up to 50 megabits for $10 a month, or 100 megabits for $30 a month.
Both Comcast offerings will still be available if the FCC program ends, but customers will have to pay out of their own pockets. Comcast spokesman Joel Shadle called on the government to keep the program going.
“We continue to urge Congress and the White House to continue ACP funding,” he said. “We want to keep these important internet resources available to consumers.”
Legislation that would provide an additional $7 billion for the program is pending in Congress. Senator Ed Markey pledged his support for the bill.
“The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that broadband is essential to our daily lives,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in an email. “I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to save this program so that the 22 million enrolled households, including 361,000 households in Massachusetts, are not forced back into the digital divide.”