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Millions of Americans are losing access to low-cost internet service

Millions of Americans lack high-speed internet
Millions of Americans still lack high-speed internet access 03:43

The nation's largest broadband affordability program is coming to an end due to a lack of congressional funding.

The Federal Communications Commission is reluctantly marking the end, as of Saturday, of a pandemic-era program that helped several million low-income Americans get and stay online. Created in December 2020, what became the Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, eventually enrolled more than 23 million subscribers — or one in six U.S. households — across rural, suburban and urban America.

That demand illustrates that "too many working families have been trapped on the wrong side of the digital divide because they struggle to pay for the service," Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the FCC, wrote in a Friday statement.

"Additional funding from Congress remains the only near-term solution to keep this vital program up and running," the chairwoman said in a letter appealing for help from lawmakers. 

President Biden's supplemental budget request last year asked for $6 billion to fund the program through December 2024.

Previous federal efforts to close the digital divide long focused on making high-speed internet available in all areas, without much thought given to whether people could afford it, Rosenworcel noted. Yet more than one million households enrolled in the first week after the precursor to the ACP launched in May 2021. 

"Each of the 23 million-plus ACP subscribers that no longer receives an ACP benefit represents an individual or family in need of just a little bit of help to have the connectivity we all need to participate in modern life," stated Rosenworcel. "And 68% of these households had inconsistent connectivity or zero connectivity before the ACP."

Access to high-speed reliable internet is changing lives in Southern Ute Tribe Reservation 03:37

Many ACP recipients are seniors on fixed incomes, and the loss of the benefit means hard choices between online access or going without other necessities such as food or gas, the FCC head said. "We also heard from a 47-year-old in Alabama who's going back to school to become a psychologist and could now use a laptop instead of her phone to stay on top of online classwork." 

The program officially ends on June 1, 2024, with the FCC already imposing an enrollment freeze in February to smooth its administration of the ACP's end. 

Approximately 3.4 million rural households and more than 300,000 households in tribal areas are impacted, as well as more than four million households with an active duty for former military member, according to the agency. 

While not a replacement for the ACP, there is another FCC program called Lifeline that provides a $9.25 monthly benefit on broadband service for eligible households, the FCC said. 

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