Broadband on the line: Affordable Connectivity Program could end in 2024
A federal program that provides discounted rates to select broadband users may be ending soon, and that could affect customers in Kentucky.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is an FCC benefit that was established by the Biden Administration on the tail end of the pandemic to help households afford internet service they may need for work, school, and healthcare.
According to the FCC, the benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying tribal lands.
ACP is currently funded by a $14.2 billion allocation from the Biden Administration, but that budget is projected to run out by the middle of 2024, ending broadband access for many who need it most. Additionally, the program has not yet reached everyone who is eligible. According to an Associated Press analysis of enrollment and census data, less than 40% of eligible households have signed up for the discount.
Warren RECC, which serves Warren County and portions of five neighboring counties, currently offers the benefit to eligible customers. Senior Director of Communications and Public Relations Kim Phelps told WKU Public Radio that only about 6% of their Warren County customers have utilized the ACP.
"I’ve really been surprised, to be honest with you, that more people didn’t take advantage of the Affordable Connectivity Program. It was really a pretty good deal. I was really surprised we only had about six percent."
Underuse of the program could be chalked up to the fact that broadband was still being built in many areas locally and nationally over the past few years, with access only available to select populations.
But with thousands of miles of fiber now in the ground and more planned, the focus of broadband efforts is likely to change.
"At this point in Warren County, we’re really turning our efforts away from building and more towards informing our more rural members so that they better understand the importance of high-speed internet and how they can use it," Phelps said.
While several eligible broadband customers have not yet accessed the benefit, many others have. In fact, participation has increased every month since it began in 2021, and today it serves approximately 20.4 million households nationally.
Advocacy groups are pushing Congress to extend the ACP. They say letting the program expire could damage the already tenuous relationship between consumers and internet service providers, amid an ongoing effort to expand access to all areas.