The White House is urging Congress to prolong a subsidy program that aids 1 in 6 American families in affording internet access. This initiative is a crucial part of President Joe Biden’s commitment to providing dependable broadband service to every household in the country.
Tom Perez, senior adviser and assistant to President Biden, stated on a call with reporters on Monday that the internet is comparable to water for the president. He believes it is a crucial public resource that should be reasonably priced and available to all individuals.
The Affordable Connectivity Program provides eligible households with reduced rates for their internet expenses – $30 per month for most families and up to $75 per month for families living on tribal lands. The program received a one-time funding of $14.2 billion through the bipartisan infrastructure law, but it is estimated that the funds will be depleted by the end of April.
Perez stated that in the same way we would not shut off the water pipes during a critical time, we should also not shut down the high-speed internet which serves as a pathway to opportunities and healthcare for numerous individuals throughout the nation.
The program has garnered support from a diverse range of organizations, including public interest groups, broadband officials at the local and state level, and both large and small telecommunications providers.
Gary Johnson, the CEO of Paul Bunyan Communications, a company that provides internet services in Minnesota, stated that they were proactive in helping their members gain access to the program. He also mentioned that having internet access was crucial for their members, and the program was not just a subsidy, but it allowed them to have internet at all.
Last month, Paul Bunyan Communications, a broadband cooperative owned by its members and providing services to households in north central Minnesota, joined 1,700 other internet service providers in sending out notices that the program may expire if Congress does not take action.
Johnson stated that the issue of internet access and its significance appears to be non-partisan.
The program serves a similar number of households in both Republican and Democratic congressional districts, as determined by an AP analysis.
President Biden has compared his commitment to making internet accessible to all American households to the initiative during the New Deal era that aimed to bring electricity to many rural areas. In 2021, Congress approved $65 billion for various broadband-related projects, including the ACP, as part of a bipartisan infrastructure legislation. Last month, he visited North Carolina to promote its potential advantages, particularly in large regions of the country where reliable and reasonably priced internet is currently unavailable.
The end of the ACP could have consequences beyond just those currently enrolled, potentially affecting other government investments in internet access and damaging trust between consumers and their internet service providers.
A group of legislators from both parties have put forth a new bill to continue funding the ACP until 2024, with an added $7 billion in funds. This is $1 billion more than what President Biden requested from Congress for the program at the end of last year. At this time, there are no plans to vote on the bill and it is uncertain if the program will be given priority in a divided Congress.
Harjai provided coverage from Los Angeles and is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit program that assigns journalists to local newsrooms to cover neglected topics as part of their national service.