By Nate Scherer, American Consumer Institute
Among the many government financial aid programs designed to help disadvantaged Americans, the little-known Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is one of the most popular.A new poll published by the non-profit Digital Progress Institute shows broad bipartisan support for the program.
The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and RG Strategies in January, asked 1,000 registered voters whether they “support or oppose” the ACP. By large margins, voters reported that they support the program. A whopping 78 percent of Americans overall said they support “continuing” the program, including 64 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Independents and 95 percent of Democrats. This bipartisan support includes men and women of all ages and races, living in every major region of the country. Voters residing in urban, suburban and rural environments also voiced support for the program, as did voters of every education and income level. In fact, no sub-group of voters surveyed had less than 60 percent support for the program. Perhaps most impressive of all, 49 percent of voters voiced strong support for the program, with just 13 percent voicing strong opposition.
None of these findings should shock those familiar with the federal aid program, which saves Americans an estimated $500 million every month on internet access.
Created in November 2021 as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and operated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the ACP helps ensure that low-income Americans have access to quality broadband at prices they can afford.
The program works by providing eligible households a discount on home or mobile internet service. This discount is good for up to $30 per month, or up to $75 per month for households located on tribal lands. In addition, households may receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or other electronic device, so long as they contribute at least $10 and less than $50 toward the item. Eligibility is determined by Federal Poverty Guidelines and according to other specific criteria. At present, roughly 48 million Americans, or up to 40 percent of American households, qualify for the program.
Despite only existing for slightly over one year, the ACP has proven remarkably effective at providing millions of Americans with a connection online. According to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), over 16 million people have already enrolled with the program, at a cost of just $14 billion in appropriations. While still a significant sum of funding, the amount allocated to the program is fairly small compared to other programs included in the $1.2 trillion IIJA spending package.
The program also includes a range of consumer protections and safety features. Participating households have the freedom to switch providers and broadband service offerings. Service providers are also prohibited from excluding consumers on account of their credit status or prior debt history, affording them a higher level of protection. However, each household is limited to just one monthly service discount and must agree to submit detailed background information to the National Verifier and National Lifeline Accountability Database to ensure no inconsistencies exist.
Each of these consumer protections and safety features are carefully designed to prevent fraud and abuse. That makes the ACP one of the government’s wiser financial investments and a rare example of taxpayer dollars well spent.
This program has now become the victim of its own success. Due to its enormous popularity, it’s now expected to completely run out of funding by early next year. Congress must not allow this to happen. Voters have made it abundantly clear that they like and support the ACP, and they do not wish to see the program end.
Congress should listen closely to their voices and move quickly to secure a long-term funding source. Failing to do so could jeopardize the significant strides the country has made toward closing the digital divide and ensuring that every American has access to affordable and reliable internet necessary for participating in the digital economy.
Nate Scherer is a Policy Analyst with the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit us onwww.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.