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The Critical Role of the Affordable Connectivity Program in Closing the Digital Divide

 |  April 30, 2024

By: L. Harriman (Public Knowledge)

When addressing the digital divide, three crucial aspects come into focus: availability, affordability, and adoption. The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocated $65 billion towards resolving these issues, aiming for an equitable closure of the digital gap.

While tackling all facets of the digital divide is crucial, bridging the affordability gap can significantly impact both broadband availability and adoption rates. This is why Public Knowledge has steadfastly supported the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP, a pragmatic, bipartisan initiative, has kept over 23 million families connected to the internet. With the program’s funding expected to exhaust by the end of next month, we are organizing a rally on Tuesday, April 30 to advocate for its preservation.

The ACP targets affordability challenges by providing monthly internet discounts to qualifying low-income households, those in high-cost areas, and households residing on Tribal lands. Several avenues exist to secure short-term funding for the ACP through Congress, including Rep. Yvette D. Clarke’s discharge petition in support of the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act and the renewal of the FCC’s spectrum auction authority. As a long-term solution is yet to be established, bridge funding is essential to allow legislators and the FCC adequate time for deliberation on the most effective strategy, while providing consumers with a smooth transition period until systemic reforms are implemented. At Public Knowledge, we emphasize the importance of securing both short-term and permanent funding for the ACP, recognizing that the demand for broadband, particularly in vulnerable communities, continues to rise.

The IIJA introduced the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program to tackle the availability aspect of the digital divide, supporting planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption initiatives across unserved and underserved communities. As Alan Davidson, Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, underscores, the ACP plays a pivotal role in the success of the BEAD program. It assists providers in assessing a more accurate return on investment while enabling low-income consumers to afford broadband in BEAD-funded communities. In Tribal areas, where up to 90% of subscribers of some broadband providers are eligible for the subsidy, the expiration of the ACP would have dire consequences. Therefore, closing the digital divide requires addressing both broadband availability and affordability in tandem…