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White House says 10 million homes have subscribed to broadband subsidy

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks on the Biden Administration’s Affordable Connectivity Agenda.

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This story is part Crossing the Broadband DivideCNET’s coverage of how the country is working to universalize broadband access.

Vice President Kamala Harris said Monday that 10 million households have signed up for the Affordable Connectivity Program, a program that provides low-income Americans with a subsidy to help pay for broadband service. The grant was made possible by the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year.

In remarks at the White House, Harris noted that this is an important step as President Joe Biden and his administration work to bridge the digital divide and ensure that every American has access to a service. affordable broadband. Biden put Harris in charge of his initiative to bridge the digital divide last March, sending a signal that he sees Americans’ access to affordable high-speed internet as a top priority.

“In the 21st century, high-speed internet isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Harris said. “Our world has evolved online, and that’s why from day one, the President and I have fought to make it easier for everyone to access and buy high-speed internet.”

Broadband Subsidy

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided $65 billion to connect Americans to broadband. About $42 billion of these funds will be used to build new infrastructure in places currently unserved or underserved by broadband. But $14.2 billion has been spent on making broadband more affordable through the Affordable Connectivity Program, which subsidizes the cost of broadband. The program, which is administered by the Federal Communications Commission, offers eligible households a $30 per month discount on their monthly broadband bill. Households on tribal lands can get a subsidy of $75 per month. Registrants can also access a one-time $100 stipend to purchase a computer or tablet to access the internet.

The FCC launched the program earlier this year. It replaces an old grant program called the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which was created during the COVID-19 pandemic by Congress to help cover the cost of broadband for low-income households and households that have suffered a loss of income due to the pandemic. Through this program, the FCC has allocated a $50 per month subsidy to low-income households and anyone affected by the pandemic.

As the FCC transitions from the EBB program to the new ACP, there are two big notable changes. For one, the subsidy will now be $20 a month lower than it was under EBB. The second big change is that CPA is only available to low-income households.

To qualify for the ACP grant, households must demonstrate that their income is below 200% of the 2022 federal poverty guidelines. Families or individuals who are already receiving federal government benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition (also known as Food Stamps) and Women, Infants, and Children, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Medicaid, the FCC’s Lifeline program, or a number of tribe-specific programs are eligible for the benefit. Students receiving Pell grants are also eligible.

White House says 10 million homes have subscribed to broadband subsidy

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FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel, who implemented the EBB program and oversaw the transfer to the new ACP, said the pandemic has made it “very clear that broadband is no longer an asset; it is needed for everyone, everywhere.”

But she said it also showed how many Americans are really struggling to pay for broadband service.

“Given the importance of this service in everyday life,” she said in her White House address, “no one should have to choose between paying for gas and groceries and pay his broadband bill. We can solve this problem. The really good news is that we are already working on it.”

The cable industry trade group NCTA, which has supported the ACP as part of the infrastructure package, applauded the step. It also touted its members’ efforts to provide inexpensive broadband to low-income Americans. The best-known of these programs is Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which offers broadband for $10 a month and has served more than 10 million subscribers since its launch in 2011.

“These collective public-private efforts are making a real difference in bridging the digital divide,” said NCTA Director Michael Powell. “We remain committed to the mission of connecting all Americans to the Internet through these programs, as well as our efforts to build new networks in areas that do not yet have service.”

Bridging the digital divide

The digital divide is an issue that has preoccupied policymakers for decades. Despite the billions of dollars the federal government spends every year to connect more Americans, the FCC estimates that at least 19 million Americans lack access to broadband. Given the poor quality of the maps used by the government, even the FCC admits it’s likely an undercount. The White House estimates that as many as 42 million Americans lack access to adequate and affordable broadband. And he claims that half of those people don’t have access to it because the service is unaffordable.

The issue took on new urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of Americans were forced into lockdown. Schoolchildren needed the Internet to go to school. Adults, whose jobs allowed, were forced to work from home. And millions of Americans have accessed health care remotely via the Internet.

But for many Americans, the lack of infrastructure and high cost of service meant they couldn’t access this essential service. Many experts point out that bridging the digital divide is not just about providing broadband access to rural communities that lack it, but about ensuring digital equity. This is especially true for communities that have historically been bounded and excluded from high-speed access. Digital redlining is a term used to describe when broadband providers deliberately leave low-income customers on slower legacy broadband infrastructure while improving infrastructure in wealthier communities.

Creating digital equity also means ensuring that broadband service is affordable for all Americans, whether they live in rural parts of the country or in urban or suburban areas. Harris said the CPA will help solve this problem.

“Every person in our country and every parent, regardless of income, should be able to access high-speed, high-speed internet,” she said. “We’re fighting for every person to have the opportunity to build something for themselves and their families by making essential 21st century technology more affordable.”


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