With 19 million Americans living without broadband internet access and another 100 million living in areas with broadband access but still not subscribing to broadband service — often because they can’t afford it — the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) which gained permanent status under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) could be a game-changer.
The broadband affordability gap keeps millions of Americans offline and disproportionately impacts low-income households.
The ACP program is currently being offered by both national carriers, like AT&T T, Metro by T-Mobile TMUS, Comcast CMCSA, Mint Mobile, SurgePays SURG and Verizon VZ, as well as many local and regional providers, including IdeaTek in Kansas and Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee.
Nearly 40 percent of the households in America qualify for the ACP Program. Most carriers offer the ACP program only through online or in-store enrollment programs, while some providers, like SurgePays, Inc., which owns and operates SugrePhone Wireless and Torch Wireless, offers both online enrollments as well as via in-person opportunities within the community. Surgepays takes a grassroots approach by setting up pop-up tents to reach households that are unable to sign-up online or unaware of the program.
The affordable connectivity program that will offset the cost of broadband subscriptions for low-income households is one of the most important and beneficial programs according to some analysts — reducing the financial burden of connecting to the internet and closing the broadband affordability gap for those 100 million Americans.
The Affordable Connectivity Program Makes An Emergency Broadband Access Initiative Permanent
When the pandemic swept the globe, millions of adults found themselves suddenly working from home while children and college students had to adapt to virtual classes. That rapid and unexpected transition seemingly revealed the stark need for better internet access and more robust internet infrastructure.
For those with the internet, it can be easy to take for granted just how many little ways it makes life easier and provides access to more resources for career and personal development.
As more and more jobs and services go digital, this lack of access reportedly makes it even harder for low-income households to keep up.
That realization motivated Congress to create the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program in 2020, which appropriated $3.2 billion to allow the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help low-income households pay for internet service and devices.
The temporary relief measure was originally set to expire when the $3.2 billion was spent, but the FCC quickly realized that the program was a lifeline for millions of Americans who would no longer be able to afford internet access without it.
That led to the creation of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a permanent version of EBB with a slightly reduced monthly benefit but no expiration date. The long-term program offers $30 per month to eligible households and $75 for those on tribal lands.
Consumers And Service Providers Alike Might Benefit From Enhanced Government Funding
For those millions of Americans, services that typically cost $50 or more will now cost about $20 out of pocket with the ACP benefit. Meanwhile, the program is also benefiting telecom companies indirectly by spurring a large-scale increase in subscriptions.
SurgePays Inc. SURG, for example, surpassed 100,000 subscribers between August 2021 and April 2022. With ACP making the benefits program permanent, the company announced it has reached 150,000 subscribers as of mid-July.
The mobile broadband and financial services provider says it is focused on providing affordable, reliable services to underbanked and underserved communities across the country. SurgePays began offering mobile broadband access through the ACP program to subscribers last August through SurgePhone Wireless in 14 states. The company recently acquired Torch Wireless to expand its program to all 50 states, becoming a nationwide provider.
In addition to providing financial support for low income households, the larger Infrastructure and Jobs Act also allocated an additional $42.5 billion to upgrade broadband coverage to rural areas where it’s still not available and otherwise improve the infrastructure needed to deliver high-speed, stable internet service to customers regardless of where they’re located.
Without this funding, the cost of building broadband infrastructure in rural and low-population areas is not economically viable for many telecom companies — even major players like AT&T or Verizon. But with the infrastructure in place, thanks to the IIJA, providers can quickly begin offering affordable service to these currently underserved areas.
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