.Connection Crisis

Thousands of locals could lose internet help

The future of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a federal program that provides internet access to low-income families, is in limbo. Unless Congress steps in to fund it, over 23 million households will be cut off from the program by April of this year, when funding is expected to run out.

In Santa Cruz County, out of 40,454 households eligible for the benefit, 11,322 are enrolled. The end of the ACP means uncertainty for low-income students needing to stay connected to the internet, some of whom had to camp outside businesses to do their school work during the pandemic.

The program provides up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 for eligible households on tribal lands.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the ACP will stop accepting new applications and enrollments on Feb. 7. Households that are approved, enrolled and are receiving the program’s monthly discount by Feb. 8 will continue to receive it until the money runs out.

The ACP was created in 2021, after the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, allocated $14..2 billion for the FCC to create a program to bridge the digital divide. After the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, schools switched to remote learning, which highlighted disparities in internet access for low-income families.

secure document shredding

Locally, the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership is focused on providing accessible, reliable broadband internet in the tri-county area. This includes San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. 

The MBEP is concerned about the ACP’s ending, and urged local governments and internet service providers to spread the word.

“Access to affordable and reliable internet is essential to the quality of life and economic well-being in the Monterey Bay region, but too many households struggle to afford monthly broadband service,” said MBEP president and CEO Tahra Goraya in a press release. 

However, local groups are not the only ones concerned about the implications of ACP’s end. In a Jan. 16 letter to Congress, the U.S.  Council of Mayors urged senators and representatives to extend the service.

“Having quality and affordable broadband has become essential in America. High speed internet is a necessity for almost every American, connecting people to educational opportunities, telemedicine, and of course, opportunities for work and entrepreneurship,” it said.

Comcast, the nation’s largest home internet service provider, has also raised concern over what the end of ACP will mean to the stability of low-income households.

Comcast’s Project UP is its digital equity initiative that appropriated $1 billion to help connect low-income families to programs like ACP. The company recently commissioned a report by Benenson Strategy Group which found that “75% of ACP Participants fear losing access to important healthcare services, like online appointments or prescription medicine refills.” 

The report also found that 81% of parents in families receiving the benefit feared that their children will fall behind in school if they are unable to have internet access.

The Santa Cruz County Office of Education is working to keep students connected after the ACP ends by lining them up to local programs, according to COE director of communications and engagement Nick ibarra.

“Ensuring families have access to high-speed internet is a priority, and we will continue working with local partners through the Equal Access Santa Cruz initiative with the goal to provide broadband to all families,” he said.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am a low income person who is receiving free internet access from this program. Internet access is ESSENTIAL for my job so if the program is not given renewed funding, I may not be employed.

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - No
    • Both AT&T and Xfinity offer broadband to low income customers for $9.95 a month, with no taxes or modem fees. Surely you can afford that, since I assume you work more that 1 hour per month.

      • Please sign me up for the newsletter - No

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

spot_img
Good Times E-edition Good Times E-edition