ACP or affordable connectivity program is one of the Benefits the government created to support consumers that affected financially. But now many companies and businesses are back in operation, will we continue to get the Benefit? And if yes, how long will the affordable connectivity program last before I lose my current subscription?
First things first, the affordable connectivity program, commonly known as ACP, is a Benefit that has been offering low-income individuals discounts on broadband service. Internet is, after all, something we can’t live without, now that even jobs, schools, shopping, and entertainment have moved online.
Of course, don’t expect the government subsidy to cover a premium broadband connection for you. The amount they pay back to the providers participating in the ACP is only enough for a basic internet plan, as we shall see shortly. But some of these providers have managed to adjust their service structure to accommodate Free service with the benefit.
16+ Million Households are on Affordable Connectivity Program So Far
The Affordable Connectivity Program is available to all U.S. citizens in the country. However, only the eligible (low-income individuals) get to receive associated perks, including Free internet service and a one-time discount on tablets or laptops.
At the time of writing this article, the number of the households “eligible” and enrolled for the ACP is 16,725,946. The new figures mean more than 1 million households have registered for the broadband benefit between January and mid-March of this year. Thus, there are still hardships across many, many homes in the country.
In the enrollments per state, California has the most, with nearly 2 million households registered so far, followed by Texas at almost 1.3 million. The connectivity program has also been available in remote U.S. islands, where we have about 10,000 households enrolled in American Samoa, Guam, plus Northern Mariana and Virgin Islands.
Regardless, the largest enrollments for the government broadband benefit are still from before December 2021, with 9.05 million households registered. At the time, the program went by EBB, or Emergency Broadband Benefit, which came around may of that year.
In a way, we could say EBB was just like ACP since the goal was to deliver affordable broadband to low-income families. Many consumers enrolled at the time, though, would receive a discount of $50 (or $75 on Tribal lands). And this was enough to get free internet service from relatively more providers than with the new discount on ACP.
Affordable Connectivity Program vs Emergency Broadband Benefit
The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) was available through the Emergency Broadband Benefit fund of $3.2 billion from the Treasury. And from this amount, you would get $50 (or $75 if on tribal lands) off your monthly service.
As I’ve just mentioned, this was slightly better than the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which came to replace it (EBB). Why?
ACP currently offers a $30 service discount on non-tribal lands. It’s only the eligible consumers on tribal lands would continue to receive their usual benefit amount of $75.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is still the body overseeing the new broadband benefit, just like the previous EBB. It also oversees the reports on issues with the service, albeit on the dedicated Consumer Inquiries and Complaint Center.
However, the FCC doesn’t deal directly with the internet service providers for ACP (or even Lifeline). It has given that mandate to Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which then distributes the funds to participating providers.
The USAC was the same department distributing the funds of EBB until the program ended on 31st December 2021. It also collects and distributes monies for the lifeline program with free cell phones from the government.
Speaking of lifeline, the carriers of the free government phones are amongst the ISPs of the ACP broadband benefit. But I’d recommend applying for the ACP through a fixed internet provider for a better experience.
The Funding of the Affordable Connectivity Program
Again, I’ve said the EBB had its separate Emergency Broadband Benefit fund amounting to $3.2 Billion from the U.S. Treasury. But even before the funds depleted, Congress passed a $1.2 Trillion for infrastructure expansion.
The replacement of EBB, our affordable connectivity program, was part of the projects in this “infrastructure expansion”. And out of the one Trillion, the new broadband benefit took $14.1 billion.
If you love playing with numbers, you’ll notice the budget of ACP is about 440% more than what was available for EBB. But as we’ve seen above, the consumers eligible for the program gets a $30 subsidy instead of $50.
Sadly, not many fixed ISPs have a broadband subscription under $50 when you count the fees for an equipment lease. But in the Fact Sheet to Reduce High-Speed Internet Costs that the White House released, about twenty providers pledged to offer at least 100Mbps at $30 or less/ month. A few examples are Verizon, Xfinity, AT&T, Spectrum, and Frontier.
However, none of these premium ISPs have the complete ACP package. I mean, they only offer the broadband discount without the one-time saving of up to $100 on a connected device. The connected device can be a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer.
How Long Will the Affordable Connectivity Program Last?
First, the reason Congress created Affordable Connectivity Program was to have a lasting broadband benefit for low-income consumers. It was the reason they allotted almost five times more funds to the Benefit than EBB. We could also say this was the reason the FCC decided to reduce the broadband subsidy amount from $50 to $30.
But even after all this, there are still no details on how long the affordable connectivity program will last. I’ve heard some people claim the program will be ending next year, in 2024. The truth, though, is that no one knows. It could end before then or last longer.
Even the Communications Commission doesn’t have details on the expiry of ACP as they did for EBB. At that time, the Commission had listed on its website that the “Emergency Broadband Benefit will end when the allocated funds are expended, was no longer a health pandemic”.
Meanwhile, the FCC has listed on its website that the purpose of the $14.1 billion for ACP was to create a “longer-term broadband affordability program”. There’s no statement, or even a single sentence, about the program ending when the funds set aside deplete.
The only thing I’ve noticed is that the Infrastructure Act has had the FCC conduct an outreach for the ACP. And this led to FCC creating two ACP Outreach Programs that will help in increasing the awareness and enrollment of the broadband benefit.
How Long will Affordable Connectivity Program Outreach Programs Last?
As awareness programs, the applications to the two Outreach Pilot Programs were only open to the ACP-related Federal Agencies and their partner groups. The two Outreach Pilot Programs (Your Home Your Internet and Affordable Connectivity Program Navigator) started accepting registrations on November 21, 2022. The application was to run for about two months, as that window closed on January 9, 2023.
On March 15, 2023, the FCC announced they have selected 32 applicants who will participate in this Outreach Program. And out of the 32 groups, 23 will be taking part in the Your Home, Your Internet (YHYI) program, whereas the rest are in the ACP Navigators Pilot Program (NPP).
Now, unlike the actual affordable connectivity program to the consumers, the Outreach Pilot Programs have an end date. According to the Commission, the programs will run on a one-year term since commencement.
The Commission stated they will provide the participating entities with $10 million in funding ($5 million for each pilot program) for this term. And as per the March 15 announcements from FCC, the selected applicants have already taken $7,445,142.
Where Can I Apply for Affordable Connectivity Program?
Earlier again, I mentioned twenty internet service providers agreed to offer high-speed broadband to households eligible for ACP. However, the total number of providers who have registered to participate in the ACP program is about 1,653.
Fortunately/ unfortunately, the experience you get on ACP with each of these providers varies. The reason for this is that they all fall under different categories, including:
- Fixed Internet Providers
Fixed broadband providers are the first option you can consider when looking to apply for an affordable connectivity program. The category comprises wired internet service from fiber, DSL, and cable that we have on the likes of Xfinity and Spectrum. Then the fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband that we have on providers like T-Mobile and Verizon.
In my opinion, a fixed internet provider is the best choice to apply for the ACP benefit. The connection is not only more stable and “truly unlimited. But you can also comfortably share the service with the whole family.
Sadly, however, many providers of fixed broadband usually offer their service at slightly high rates. It’s only a few, such as Verizon, COX, Xfinity, and Frontier the $30 ACP discount can cover full fees to bring you service for Free.
On the pricier service, the ACP amount will only cover part of the bill, then the remaining balance will be due at the end (or start) of the month.
Where to apply for ACP with Fixed Internet Providers: https://www.affordableconnectivity.gov/
- Lifeline Phone Providers
You can apply for the affordable connectivity program from lifeline providers with free government phones. In fact, you automatically qualify for the broadband discount if already participating in the Lifeline program.
If you’re not eligible for the lifeline program, most of the eligible telecommunication carriers (ETC) do offer an ACP-only plan. However, the data allowance you receive per month will be lesser than that of the lifeline + ACP combo plan.
Speaking of, the ACP benefit is how it’s possible for lifeline carriers to offer free cell phone service with unlimited everything. But the “unlimited data” you see advertised isn’t truly unlimited. The operators usually throttle your line (reduce data speed based on usage) to lower speeds after reaching the monthly limit.
For instance, SafeLink Wireless throttle the monthly data for most states (on lifeline + ACP combo plan) after 25GB. The consumers in California are a bit lucky as their data speed drops after hitting 60GB.
So, applying ACP with a lifeline provider isn’t the best option if you’re a heavy surfer. It will also not be ideal if you’d like to share the internet data with other members of your family through the cell phone hotspot. Some carriers (like Qlink) in this category don’t even support mobile hotspot features.
Where to apply for ACP with Lifeline Providers: website, phone, or store of preferred carrier
- Major Phone Carrier Providers
In a nutshell, Major Phone Carriers are those cellular providers that have their own network towers. And since the infrastructure is theirs, they tend to prioritize their customers on data speed distribution before the MVNOs using them. Thus, the cell phone in use will always have working data service, including when the network is busy.
Even better, various phone service plans from the Main Carriers have “truly” unlimited data, with no cap. It’s usually the best for those always on the move. You can browse and stream music/ videos as much as you want without having to worry about throttling.
But again, not all the Main Carriers in the country are directly participating in the affordable connectivity program. For instance, T-Mobile offers the benefit through its brands Assurance Wireless and Metro (formerly MetroPCS).
Another thing, the service from the remaining Main Carriers (Verizon, AT&T, and US Cellular) is usually a bit pricey. If eligible for ACP, the $30 discount will only cover part of your bill on most of the rate plans.
FYI: AT&T is the only Main Carrier you can get a free service with ACP. The problem, though is that this package is available on a prepaid plan, with 5GB of deprioritized 5G/ LTE data.
Where to apply for ACP with Main Phone Carriers: https://www.affordableconnectivity.gov/
- Mobile Virtual Network Operators
A mobile virtual network operator (or MVNO) is a small carrier without its own network towers. Instead, it runs off towers of the Main Carriers: think of it like reselling their network. But on the plus side, the service is often slightly cheaper, as it doesn’t have many perks.
The cheap cost is how many of the MVNOs with ACP have been able to offer absolutely free service. Nice example is Straight Talk, Red Pocket, Cricket Wireless, Boost Mobile, and Total by Verizon. But like with lifeline carriers, these operators deprioritize and throttle your data (reduce data speed based on network congestion and usage respectively).
So, getting the ACP benefit with a mobile virtual network operator is also not ideal if a heavy data user or you would like to share the connection with other people.
Where to apply for ACP with Main Phone Carriers: https://www.affordableconnectivity.gov/
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Lifeline and ACP the same?
No, Lifeline and ACP are not the same. They’re two different programs, where lifeline offers a discount on cell phone service and ACP is for broadband connection. However, the providers of lifeline phones are also offering ACP benefits. It’s how they have managed to have unlimited everything service (talk, text, and data).
What is the term of ACP, or how long the ACP will last?
The term of the ACP outreach program is only limited to one year. But there are no details on how long the actual ACP benefit for individuals will last. The FCC has just listed on its website that ACP is a longer-term benefit than the previous EBB.
What income is used for ACP?
ACP is only available to low-income U.S. citizens currently residing in the country. The participating providers use an income level at/ below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. But you can also apply with government assistance programs, such as Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, Federal Pell Grant, WIC, et cetera.
What qualifies for ACP?
As I’ve just mentioned, only a low-income consumer qualifies for ACP. You can apply with proof of low income at/ below 200% of federal poverty guidelines or participate in a government assistance program. The assistance programs eligible are:
Federal Pell Grant in the current award year
School Lunch or School Breakfast Program
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
Lifeline-supported programs like Medicaid, SNAP, FPHA, Public Housing, Veterans & Survivors Pension Benefit, et cetera
Tribal programs, such as Head Start, TANF, Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, et cetera.
Did the Affordable Connectivity Program end?
The affordable connectivity program hasn’t ended yet. It is still available, only that you now get a $30 subsidy instead of the $50 that the previous emergency broadband benefit offered. And considering the funding is also about five times more ($14.1 billion vs $3.2 billion), we can see the ACP last longer.
Remember You can Only Apply Once per Household
If still struggling financially, the affordable connectivity program makes it possible to get an internet connection at a minimal cost. “Minimal” being the keyword, you can get a connection of 100Mbps speeds at $30 or less. Xfinity is a nice example you can get free 100Mbps broadband connection per month through its Internet Essentials Plus.
Keep in mind, the affordable connectivity program is only available per household. You can’t apply and qualify if someone else from your house is already receiving the benefit. The same applies to trying to use multiple providers for the discount. You may get disqualified together for fraud if detected.
However, a student living away from the family alone can apply and qualify through the Federal Pell Grant or School Breakfast/ Launch program. Two people living in the same house but don’t share income can also qualify for the internet benefit separately.