Market Watch

Balancing Affordable Connectivity: ACP’s Countdown and Adaptations

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The clock is ticking for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) spearheaded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Initiated in early 2022 as a replacement for the Emergency Broadband Benefit, the ACP offers qualified households a $30 monthly discount ($75 for those on designated Tribal lands) towards their internet service. They might also be eligible for a one-off discount on the purchase of computing devices.

However, that generosity is now set to expire unless additional funds are provided by Congress. The ACP’s balance is hovering below $1.8 billion, suggesting that April could be the last month that the full $30 monthly benefit can be availed of, courtesy of the program’s financial resources. By May, providers have to decide whether to suspend the benefit, or initiate their proprietary subsidized plans.

On April 9th, 2024, the FCC expressed in a statement that the maximum benefit expected to be received by providers in May would reduce to $14 per ACP customer, down to $35 for each eligible Tribal user. The ACP stopped accepting new enrollments in February.

In response to FCC’s appeal to maintain continuity, several providers have already elucidated their respective strategies. Verizon affirms its commitment to keeping consumers connected by rolling out “Verizon Forward”, offering home internet for an affordable $20 per month. New enrollees for this plan will pay nothing for their first half-year.

AT&T continues its “Access from AT&T” plan, delivering 100-megabit internet access for $30 each month. This plan was previously free for some customers with the ACP $30 discount. On the other hand, Comcast extends its “Internet Essentials” plan, maintaining options for budget-friendly connectivity starting from $9.95 per month, with a possibility to transfer ACP benefits to certain plans.

Charter, the predominant ACP program provider, has yet to detail its plans after the ACP, although customers could qualify for the Internet Assist Plan, allowing 50-megabit internet for $24.99 monthly. Fastwyre Broadband will bear the cost of the $30 ACP benefit (or $75 for those on Tribal lands) for its existing ACP clientele until August 2024.

Countless other providers are preparing discounted plans, some starting as low as $10 per month, and the Lifeline program will persist. Furthermore, various charity organizations commit to assisting monthly internet expenditures or providing internet-ready devices like computers or tablets.

Despite bipartisan support for ACP extension, backed by ISPs, government organizations, and advocacy groups urging for additional funding, the program’s continuity appears rather bleak. Over 23 million households rely on the ACP for internet access, underlining the importance of reliable, high-speed internet in the modern world, only accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Absence of ACP extension or a suitable alternative could isolate millions of Americans from a wealth of opportunities.

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