Federal funds helped millions of people connect to the internet. Once it expires, cities will face a new digital gap.

Digital Products

Nate Stone fears the coming weeks will suddenly put the digital inclusion movement he helped spearhead in Denver under serious threat.

Without last-minute savings, a widely publicized federal program that subsidizes internet access to low-income and other households will run out of money this month, affecting more than 23 million people.

The $14.2 billion Affordable Connections Program (ACP) was launched in late 2021 in response to the pandemic, but has become a critical part of America’s social safety net. But despite broad bipartisan support, the ACP is likely to lapse amid political deadlock over a number of other issues.

“The impact here is going to be tremendously devastating,” Stone, technology education administrator for the Denver Public Library System, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The most vulnerable people will lose the ability to connect to networks that can actually provide support.”

He said about 14% of Denver residents previously lacked internet connectivity.

Stone was headed to a senior housing development where she was the first to use ACP’s $30-a-month subsidy to get internet connectivity.

Now, he said, “all of them have received notice that ACP is being abolished, but no one knows what their options are.”

The Universal Service Administrative Co., which manages the ACP, referred questions about guidance to local officials to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which did not respond to questions.

There have been several attempts in Congress to temporarily extend the ACP, alongside a long-term strategy to make funding for these Internet subsidies permanent.

But it may already be too late.

“Lack of funding could end this important program and increase costs for hardworking families,” Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen said in a statement.

Mr. Rosen helped found the ACP and is currently leading efforts to extend and permanently fund it.

“Access to high-speed internet is a critical lifeline for families to access telehealth, complete school work, and even run their businesses,” she said.

“At a loss”

When the pandemic hit, local officials found themselves on the front lines responding to the academic, health and other challenges residents suddenly faced, said Angelina Panelli of the National League of Cities, an umbrella group.

Schools and libraries are working at scale to provide technology and technical know-how, leveraging their deep knowledge of where to find people most in need, said the Legislative Director of Information Technology and Communications. .

That effort will continue even after the medical emergency subsides, Panettiri said, and many cities have begun making broader investments in digital equity.

They are now scrambling to find a way to keep their jobs.

“Many cities are at a loss as to what they can do,” she says.

Many companies are starting by reaching out to residents to inform them about the impending changes and help them find options for increasingly central services.

“In reality, it’s just enabling you to complete your daily activities, like applying for a job, seeing a health care provider, and going to school,” said Rebecca F. Kauma, director of digital equity for the Los Angeles County Department of Internal Services. he said. A person in that position.

He said 2.9 million households across California were enrolled in ACP as of February, about a third of them residents of Los Angeles County, but it was unclear how they would respond.

Internet service providers were offering low rates of $20 to $30 a month, but “the reality is that many Los Angeles County residents can’t afford that,” Kauma said.

“The FCC data shows that many communities would shut down their internet service if the ACP were repealed.”

The outcome also complicates future efforts already underway, including the government’s $42 billion plan to provide broadband service to every American home, with many states relying on the ACP. We are planning to introduce it.

Albemarle County, Virginia, has created its own broadband subsidy and aims to spread internet coverage across its largely rural jurisdiction by the end of next year.

“But the lesson is, the federal funding is going to run out,” said Jason Inofentes, program manager for the county’s Office of Broadband Accessibility and Affordability.

He said approximately 2,700 households in the county are enrolled in ACP, and the county is partnering with major local service providers to create a “bridge” program to help as many residents as possible as officials consider their options. He said he did.

He said the expiration date likely comes at a critical time nationally, with a significant increase in focus on digital inclusion, offering new opportunities to find national solutions to address barriers to access. He pointed out that he was doing it.

But when it comes to the impact of ending the ACP, “What we’re worried about right now is that a lot of families are going to get burned when they lose the program. And we’re going to be the face of that.” ,” Inofentes said.

private sector

The end of the ACP will result in a significant emphasis on private sector programs.

Comcast and AT&T, national internet service providers, have asked the federal government to extend ACP or similar initiatives and said they will continue to offer lower-cost options in the meantime.

Another provider, Windstream, has gone a step further to cover the subsidy for now.

“Even after the federal government ends funding for the program, we intend to continue the $30 monthly credit for current ACP customers for the foreseeable future,” Scott Morris, Windstream’s senior corporate affairs adviser, said in an email. Ta.

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance, which has 1,600 members and is a leading voice on the issue, is tracking these low-cost plans.

“We’ll be looking at things like ease of enrollment and how much we can move current ACP customers to lower-cost plans,” said Angela Schieffer, executive director of the alliance.

“We’re very concerned that people haven’t gotten the memo that this is going to end. And then three months go by and they’re fired because they owe three months. It happens 100%.”

This article was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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“These items are interesting.”
“The Affordable Connectivity Program provides internet access to 23 million people and is a critical foundation of America’s social safety net. But funding will likely run out in the coming weeks.” .”
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Source link: https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2024/0507/Affordable-Connectivity-Program-network-expiration?icid=rss