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Could the ACP Come Back? Congress Works on New Bills to Reinstate Lower Internet Costs

As the Affordable Connectivity Program runs out of money, 23 million households face higher internet bills in May.

Joe Supan Senior Writer
Joe Supan is a senior writer for CNET covering home technology, broadband, and moving. Prior to joining CNET, Joe led MyMove's moving coverage and reported on broadband policy, the digital divide, and privacy issues for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. He has been featured as a guest columnist on Broadband Breakfast, and his work has been referenced by the Los Angeles Times, Forbes, National Geographic, Yahoo! Finance and more.
Joe Supan
4 min read
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It’s hard to think of many government initiatives that are as broadly popular as the Affordable Connectivity Program. The program provides $30 monthly (or $75 for those living on Tribal lands) to help low-income households pay for home internet. 

More than 1 in 5 households with an internet subscription in the US utilize the ACP, and it’s almost unanimously supported by voters: Polling from Public Opinion Strategies and RG Strategies shows that 78% of voters want to extend the ACP, including 64% of Republicans, 70% of independents and 95% of Democrats. 

A recent study from the Chamber of Progress also found ACP subscribers will lose $10 billion in work opportunities, $1.4 billion in telehealth savings and $627 million in student benefits if the program expires. 

Locating local internet providers

But in a gridlocked Congress, popularity is no guarantee of survival. Without immediate action, ACP recipients will receive just $14 off their bills in May and nothing after that. Voices as far across the aisle as President Joe Biden and Sen. J.D. Vance, a Republican from Ohio, have called for an extension over the past few months, but nothing has come close to a vote yet. In the past two weeks, however, some life has been breathed into the expiring ACP with a batch of new bills being introduced to Congress.

 "It would be a significant waste of government funds to let this program lapse," Senate commerce broadband subcommittee chair Sen. Ben Ray Luján said during a hearing on May 2.

Locating local internet providers

"It would mean letting all of the time and resources the federal government and our state and local partners have put into standing up the program and enrolling 23 million households go to waste."

ACP funding added to spectrum auction bill

While previous ACP extension bills have died on the vine, Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, is trying a different tactic: tagging on ACP funding to a bill that’s already in committee. 

On April 26, Cantwell, the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, filed an amendment to her drafted legislation for wireless spectrum auctions, called the Spectrum and National Security Act. The bill would provide $7 billion to keep the ACP running -- up from $5 billion in a previous version -- with the funding coming from wireless spectrum auctions. With its current enrollments, that would extend the ACP for a little under 10 more months.

The bill was expected to go through a markup session in the Senate Commerce Committee on May 1 but was pulled abruptly the night before. According to Communications Daily, a website that covers telecom regulation, Cantwell told reporters she decided to postpone the session when “we had a bunch of amendments filed” that would have taken too much time to work through. It’s unclear when the bill will be revisited, with Cantwell only saying that it would be on the agenda “at a future time.”

Fetterman proposes permanent ACP funding

Days after Cantwell added the ACP amendment to her bill, Sen. John Fetterman, a Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced his own bill to extend the program. The Promoting Affordable Connectivity Act would permanently fund the ACP by removing it from the appropriations process. Like Lifeline (see below), the ACP would be moved under the auspices of the Universal Service Fund. 

According to Fetterman’s press release, internet providers would pay for the program themselves on a permanent basis. That noted, the full text of the bill is not yet available, so details are sparse. 

Bipartisan bill from January continues to stall

While calls for extending the ACP have grown more urgent in recent weeks, there has been one piece of legislation on the table for months. The Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act of 2024 was introduced in January by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives and would provide an additional $7 billion in funding. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Appropriations on Jan. 10, and despite 230 co-sponsors in the House, there’s been no action taken since then. 

Other low-income internet options

As 23 million households face higher internet bills this month, there are several options available for relief -- albeit none on the scale of the ACP. Here are some other low-income programs available across the country:

  • Lifeline: This federal program was originally created to help with phone bills, but you can now use the $9.25 monthly benefit on home internet, too. Lifeline has stricter income requirements than the ACP -- you’ll have to be at or below 135% of federal poverty levels compared to 200% for the ACP -- but it’s been permanently funded for decades, so you won’t have to worry about your bill suddenly increasing. 
  • Low-income internet plans: Internet providers like AT&T, Spectrum, Verizon and Xfinity all offer their own discounted plans for low-income customers. They typically run between $10 and $30 per month and have similar income requirements as the ACP. 
  • State and local resources: Some states and cities have their own internet subsidies in place, which you can usually find by Googling “[location] internet resources.” Oregon, for instance, provides an enhanced Lifeline benefit of $19.25 monthly, while cities like Chicago and New York provide discounted internet for families with children in school or living in public housing.