More than 20 Million People Are About to Lose Internet Access. The ACLU is Fighting to Keep Us Connected.

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) helps to provide communities across the country with access to the internet, but the program is likely to run out of funding in April 2024. The ACLU is urging Congress to support the program.

Jenna Leventoff, she/her, Senior Policy Counsel, ACLU National Political Advocacy Division

For people across the country, reliable internet access allows them to engage with the world. Think about your day – how many times did you go online, and what were you able to accomplish? This April, however, 23 million households are likely to lose access to affordable internet unless Congress acts now to fund the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a federal broadband subsidy for low-income households.

Access to broadband is one of the most important equity issues of our time. That’s why it’s such a big problem when access to broadband isn’t universal – and it isn’t. Historically marginalized communities, including Black, Latine, Indigenous, rural and low-income consumers are all far less likely to have access to the internet. One of the top reasons for this disparity is subscription cost. U.S. broadband prices are amongst the most expensive in the world – with the average U.S. household paying $84.37 a month, compared to $46.83 in Europe and $64.29 in Asia. For many households, the high price of an internet subscription may mean that, when times get tough, they have to choose: broadband or food.

The ACP Ensures that Everyone Can Afford to Connect

The ACP is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program designed to help low-income households pay for their internet service by offering a $30 monthly subsidy, or a $75 monthly subsidy for those residing on tribal lands. Eligible households include those who receive many other federal subsidies, including Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants, or who fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Additionally, because many broadband providers agreed to offer ACP-eligible households a plan for $30 or less – broadband subscriptions are essentially free for some enrollees.

Congress created the ACP in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and appropriated $14.2 billion dollars to keep the program funded for five years. However, due to incredibly high demand, that initial appropriation didn’t last nearly as long as intended. In April 2024, the FCC anticipates that the program’s funding will be exhausted. If Congress does not step in to fund the program, millions will be disconnected. This will have a devastating impact on individuals’ ability to access the resources they need to thrive.

Luckily, a bipartisan and bicameral group of legislators are trying to save the ACP. In January, Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), alongside Sens. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), introduced the ACP Extension Act. That legislation would allot $7 billion to keep the ACP funded through the end of 2024.

Broadband is an Equity Issue

If you care about equity, you should care about access to broadband. The average person spends nearly seven hours a day online, and those who cannot are at an extreme disadvantage. For school-aged children or adult learners, the inability to get online at home makes it harder to complete assignments or attend online classes, ultimately jeopardizing higher education and career prospects.

The lack of broadband can even have negative health impacts. For example, many rural communities lack specialists and resources needed to handle complex medical issues. It can also be particularly challenging for rural Americans, especially low-income rural Americans without reliable transportation, to regularly drive to their nearest city for medical care. Telehealth enables these communities – or any community with a dearth of health resources – to access the care they need and deserve.

Broadband also helps individuals access information that supports free expression, reproductive health, and the right to vote. The internet has become the place to exercise our First Amendment rights. Without affordable internet access, however, not only would individuals not be able to speak out, but they’d lose the ability to find information.

In the LGBTQ community, internet access helps individuals find resources and build community with others like them – even when those support systems may not exist in their hometowns. In our post-Roe v. Wade world, broadband access helps individuals access accurate and reliable information so they can make the best decision for their health and future, including unbiased sex education, the best forms of birth control for their body, and information on where to access abortion care if they want to end a pregnancy. Broadband access also allows voters to find their polling location, and to learn more about candidates’ platforms and policies.

Ultimately, the ACP is how our nation can ensure that cost isn’t a barrier to accessing the internet. If you benefit from the program yourself, or simply want everyone to have the same opportunity to engage in online life, contact Congress, and tell them this cannot wait. The ACP must be funded now – or we risk disenfranchising the millions of Americans who rely on this vital service.