White House partners with internet providers for Affordable Connectivity Program
The White House says more than 11,000 households in South Dakota have already signed up
RAPID CITY, S.D. — Passed in 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law included $65-billion earmarked specifically for broadband infrastructure. Part of that funding is having an immediate impact on consumers through the Affordable Connectivity Program, which was launched on December 31, 2021. The ACP is the long-term replacement to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.
“[We’re] trying to do everything we can given the times we’re in today to make sure we’re really focused on these monthly costs – the bills that are coming in – to make sure the families can make ends meet and have some breathing room,” said Rohini Kosoglu, the Deputy Assistant to President Biden and Domestic Policy Adviser to Vice President Harris.
The White House says more than 11,000 households in South Dakota have signed up. The ACP reduces internet costs by $30 a month for qualifying families and $75 a month on tribal lands. It also provides a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. Only one service discount and device discount is allowed per household.
Families are eligible to sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program if their income is 200% or less than the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which are based on household size and state of residence.
This table shows the income limit by household size, 200% of the 2022 Federal Poverty Guidelines:
You’re also eligible if you participate in certain government assistance programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit
- Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program, including at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Community Eligibility Provision Schools
- or if you received a Pell Grant in the current award year
Those that live on qualifying tribal lands are eligible for the program if they meet the household income guidelines, or if someone in the household participates in assistance programs like:
- Any of the above-listed federal assistance programs
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
- Head Start (only households meeting the income qualifying standard)
- Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF)
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
Anyone that already receives a Lifeline Benefit through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) automatically qualifies for the ACP, and you can receive both benefits at the same time.
“When we talk about what does it mean to access internet, we have to look at it both in terms of not just affordability, but accessibility,” Kosoglu said.
Gaps in broadband access became more apparent during the pandemic, with remote work and school impossible for some.
According to the most-recent FCC Broadband Deployment Report, at the end of 2018, 94.4% of the overall population had fixed terrestrial broadband coverage at speeds of 25/3 Mbps (megabits per second), which is the current benchmark for fixed advanced telecommunications capability. The report notes a significant gap in coverage in rural and tribal areas, with 22.3% of Americans in rural areas and 27.7% in tribal areas lacking that 25/3 Mbps broadband access, compared to only 1.5% of those in urban areas.
BARRIERS TO ACCESS FOR INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES
The Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development says they have identified seven fundamental barriers to broadband deployment in American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities:
- Lack of coordination
- Insufficient data
- Missing building blocks
- Insufficient funding
- Complex permitting
- Low adoption
- Weak connection to economic development
With a large proportion of AI/AN lands located on rough terrain in rural areas, the increased cost for providers to serve those sparsely-populated areas has created an obstacle to expanded broadband access.
The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 set aside $1 billion in funding for tribal broadband connectivity grants for expanding access on tribal lands, however, the BIA says the application for the program hasn’t been announced.
Part of the infrastructure money is going towards reaching those without reliable access.
“It’s also making sure that the internet that is built out to these families and homes can also be upgraded in the future,” Kosoglu said. “We know that technology changes fast, and what we don’t want is to build out technology that can’t be upgraded.”
South Dakota Senator John Thune spoke on the Senate floor in mid-June about access in South Dakota, saying, “Too often, rural areas like those in my home state of South Dakota have lagged behind when it comes to getting the most modern internet technology, and I am committed to ensuring that the full benefits of next-generation technologies make their way to rural communities.”
Thune joined colleagues from both sides of the aisle last fall to introduce the “Reforming Broadband Connectivity Act of 2021,” to help provide stable funding to the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund, which includes programs that support broadband access in rural communities. The funding for the USF comes largely from fees on landlines, which disproportionately impacts seniors, who use landlines at a much greater rate than other adults.
With everyday costs on the rise, it’s a push to get money back in people’s pockets.
“This is part of the broader landscape that we’re hoping moving forward with for many Americans that they really will see lower costs in their pockets and in their monthly bills,” Kosoglu added.
The ACP is a partnership with broadband providers nationwide, however, not all companies offer the Affordable Connectivity Program. Click here for a list of companies in your area that offer the ACP.