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The End of the Affordable Connectivity Program

How to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Millions of people are concerned about the possible end of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which has helped many U.S. households get a reliable internet for the very first time. Despite the program’s success, it is currently scheduled to end in May 2024 due to lack of funding, threatening many people’s jobs and access to health care and education.

The ACP has enormous support not just from those who benefit from it directly, but also from consumer advocates, state and local governments, and telecom companies. Although a bipartisan funding bill was proposed in January, it has yet to come to the floor for a vote. For those who might be anxious about this uncertainty, we’re going to walk you through the possible scenarios and what to do to keep your internet access.

Why is the ACP important?

The Affordable Connectivity Program was designed to be a permanent replacement for the emergency relief programs created to help those struggling during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program provides a benefit to qualifying households to make their internet bill more affordable. Many internet providers built new plans around this benefit specifically, enabling people to get internet service completely free of charge.

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At the time of the enrollment freeze, there were over 23 million households enrolled in the ACP, according to a survey from the Benenson Strategy Group:

In addition to the financial benefit, the ACP also increased consumer protections for internet users. One of the stipulations of the ACP was that ISPs were required to give all their subscribers equal access to service. This meant that regardless of where you lived, your internet provider was required to provide plans with “comparable speeds, capacities, latency, and other quality of service metrics in a given area, for comparable terms and conditions.”

The ACP has been an overwhelming success. Steve Forbes, Chairman of Forbes Media, has specifically highlighted the cost-effectiveness of the ACP. In a recent appeal to Congress, Forbes reiterated the economic benefits of the program:

“A connected population is key to the U.S.’ long-term economic success in the connected digital economy. […] Internet access empowers low-income families to obtain marketable digital skills, compete for better paying jobs and access remote work. ACP enrollment is not a government handout; rather, it creates an incentive for Americans to actively participate in the workforce, helping to make financial success and mobility a reality.”

The ACP wasn’t created with a predetermined end date, but its continued operation depends on receiving funding from Congress, which hasn’t happened. A bipartisan, bicameral funding bill was introduced in January 2024, but it has not been brought to the floor for a vote. If this bill is not passed before May, households will begin losing their ACP benefits.

What will happen if the ACP ends?

If the funding is allowed to run out, April will be the last fully-funded month of the ACP. The remaining funds will be prorated and sent to internet providers, who must send a final notification to ACP participants about the end of the program with the last billing cycle in which the ACP benefit is applied.

Households that were on an ACP plan will lose internet service unless they opt-in to receiving undiscounted service from their provider.  If you wish continue to receive internet service from the same provider, you must follow these steps to avoid an interruption in service:

  • Acknowledge receiving the disclosures about the ACP ending.
  • Consent to receive internet service without the ACP discount.
  • Pay your full bill for the upcoming month.

After this, you will be subject to the company’s undiscounted rates as well as its general terms and conditions without the consumer protections afforded by the ACP.

The loss of ACP benefits is expected to have several negative impacts on those who relied on the program. According to the Benenson survey, these impacts will not just be felt by working adults, but by children and seniors, too:

  • 65% of ACP participants fear losing their job or their household’s primary source of income.
  • 75% of ACP participants fear losing access to important healthcare services, like online appointments or prescription medicine refills.
  • 81% of ACP parents worry about their children falling behind in school.
  • 87% of seniors participating in the ACP are concerned about losing the ability to access government benefits like Medicaid and Social Security.

Although the ACP has been the most effective program in helping low-income Americans stay connected, there are still other ways of finding free and low-cost internet access.

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Alternatives to the Affordable Connectivity Program

If the ACP ends, the cost of internet access will increase for those who were enrolled in the program. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to find a way to maintain an internet connection that meets your needs and fits within your budget.

The easiest way to transition away from the ACP is to enroll in another government program. The most notable government program for internet assistance, other than the ACP, is the Lifeline program. The Lifeline program works similarly to the ACP, but has stricter requirements and offers a smaller benefit. However, if you qualified for the ACP through one of these programs, you likely also qualify for the Lifeline program:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefits
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
  • Medicaid
  • Tribal Programs for Native Americans

You can also qualify based on income, but the threshold for Lifeline is 135% of the federal poverty guideline, rather than the 200% needed to qualify for the ACP. To find ISPs that offer Lifeline discounts and check your eligibility for the program, visit the Lifeline website.

In addition to government programs, many internet providers have their own assistance programs for low income families. These include, but are not limited to the following:

Many of these programs also work with government programs like the ACP and Lifeline, so it’s possible to benefit from both, simultaneously. It’s important to note that these programs lack the consumer protections of the ACP. Each program varies considerably from the others and many require you to sign up for a specific internet plan that may or may not meet your household’s needs. It’s important to compare each program before deciding which one to choose.

If the ACP ends, it’s also likely that we will see an influx of new programs trying to bridge the gap for those who lose their benefits, both from government and non-government organizations. It’s essential to stay aware of new programs that are available in your area and not just accept an internet plan that is too slow or too expensive for your needs.

For more information, check out our guide to finding free and low-cost internet.

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How to Save the ACP

Although funding for the ACP is running out and the FCC has announced the official end of the program, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all hope is lost. As previously mentioned, the ACP is an effective and popular program, and ending it would have a lot of negative consequences. The Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, which was introduced into both the House and the Senate by a bipartisan group of lawmakers now has more than 170 cosponsors, making it very likely to pass.

Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle to this funding bill is time. There are a lot of important bills waiting on congressional deadlock, including bills to avoid a government shutdown. Months after being introduced, the ACP Extension Act still hasn’t come up for a vote. While every day makes it less and less likely that the bill will be passed before funding runs out, the recent influx of new cosponsors shows that this bill is a priority for many members of Congress and their constituents.

The most important thing you can do to support the ACP is to contact your elected officials, especially your senators and representatives, and tell them that you want Congress to fund the program.

In addition to having the support of politicians from across the political spectrum, over 400 organizations have come out in support of the bill, including AARP, ACLU, and NAACP, as well as most nationwide internet providers. The more people who contact their representatives, the more likely the bill will be passed before the ACP’s funding runs out.

In addition to members of Congress struggling to get the ACP funded, there are also many government officials at the state and local levels trying to create programs to keep their citizens connected to the internet. If you don’t live in one of the states trying to set up internet access programs, you should contact your state officials and tell them that they should be setting up these programs, too.

Final thoughts

The Affordable Connectivity Program has been one of the most successful programs in bridging the digital divide and bringing internet access to communities that have long been overlooked by the telecommunications industry. Furthermore, the need for reliable, affordable internet access has never been greater. To once again quote Steve Forbes:

“Today, almost halfway through the third decade of the 21st century, access to broadband service is not a luxury; it’s a necessity for all American families, regardless of their financial situation. This is no time for Congress to wait until the last possible moment to do the right thing—or even worse, to do nothing at all.”

Passing a bill to save a program that’s incredibly popular across the political spectrum is an easy political victory for those in Congress, so I’m still optimistic that the funding bill will pass, even if legislators are creating a lot of unnecessary distress by waiting until the last minute.

But even if Congress refuses to take advantage of this low-hanging fruit, the need for affordable, reliable internet access isn’t going to disappear and the Federal Government will likely have to find another way to fill it, either by restarting the ACP or creating another plan to take its place.

In the meantime, there are still alternative methods of finding affordable internet access. The important thing is maintaining the quality of connection that you need to keep your household running and keeping your internet costs in line with your budget. One way or another, we’ll figure out how to get through this.

Author -

Peter Christiansen writes about satellite internet, rural connectivity, livestreaming, and parental controls for Peter holds a PhD in communication from the University of Utah and has been working in tech for over 15 years as a computer programmer, game developer, filmmaker, and writer. His writing has been praised by outlets like Wired, Digital Humanities Now, and the New Statesman.

Editor - Rebecca Lee Armstrong

Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.

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