Today marks an unfortunately momentous day as the FCC has paused accepting new applications for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), part of the Program’s overall wind-down as it runs out of funding. With over 23 million households relying on ACP to financially support their connection to…well everything…it is jarring to think the program may no longer exist in a couple of months.
Losing this broadband subsidy program will force families to make hard choices and will likely lead to many losing connectivity altogether. With the value of a network based upon its ability to connect everyone, this is not a good result for our country.
Worse yet, a lack of ACP funding may jeopardize the future connectivity of those who have not yet had the opportunity to come online. ACP is a central feature of the $42 billion BEAD program, designed to provide a low-income option for those in unserved areas when broadband arrives and incentivize as many people as possible to connect. If it disappears, it means more than just missing out on the opportunity to connect everyone—not bringing as many people as possible online could destabilize the network deployment itself.
Building networks in rural areas is difficult and expensive. BEAD is designed to provide a one-time capital infusion for network service providers to build infrastructure that would otherwise never be cost-effective.
But rural networks are also very expensive to operate and maintain. The BEAD model anticipates that service providers will receive certain levels of recurring subscription revenue to support these operating expenses—and ACP is an important part of that equation. Keep in mind that nearly half of rural households qualify for ACP. Simply put, service providers need customers to support the network, and a lack of customers may lead to stranding our nation’s generational investment in broadband expansion. This would be the worst-case scenario for solving our nation’s connectivity challenges.
Still, I am optimistic and there is hope that Congress will come together to solve this problem by funding ACP before the program expires. I have urged Congress to do so, and the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act is a promising effort.
WIA members work tirelessly to provide the underpinning of our nation’s wireless connectivity. We are committed to making sure our efforts are truly enabling connectivity everywhere, and ACP is critical for helping us succeed in this mission.
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