Federal subsidy at risk that helps with internet for low-income households

Alaska is a vast and beautiful state but also one of the most isolated and underserved in terms of broadband access. According to the Federal Communications Commission, only 65% of Alaskans have access to broadband speeds of at least 25 Mbps, compared to 94% of Americans nationwide. This digital divide has serious consequences for Alaskans’ education, health, economy and quality of life.

Created by the federal government as a response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a $14.2 billion expansion of the federal Emergency Broadband Benefit program; its subsidies for broadband services have touched more than 6 million low-income households nationwide — including 20,000 households in Alaska in the past 17 months.

ACP helps households that need internet access for work, school, health care and other essential activities. The program is especially important for rural areas, where broadband access is often limited or expensive. Benefits include internet subscription vouchers which, when combined with the low-income service plans made available by internet providers that participate in the program, can completely offset broadband subscription costs, making them free for some qualifying low-income families.

But ACP faces an existential threat that could eliminate subsidized internet access for the more than 18 million American households that rely on the program. Its congressional funding could run out sometime in 2024.

The risk of losing ACP in rural Alaska would be detrimental to the digital inclusion and economic development of these and other communities on the losing side of the digital divide. Without affordable broadband, these households will have less opportunities for education, employment, telehealth, and civic engagement.

ACP is a vital lifeline for rural Alaska that should not only be preserved but should be expanded.

Jim Steele, Anchorage

former chief information officer

for the state of Alaska

 

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