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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Federal internet assistance program set to end, Wisconsin state programs to fill place

Over 425,000 Wisconsinites to be affected by ending of federal Affordable Connectivity Program
Tien Showers

The Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides internet subsidies to 23 million households in the U.S. — over 425,000 of which are in Wisconsin — is expected to wind down this April as funds for the program have dried up, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Throughout the month of May, ACP households are expected to receive a partial discount on their broadband before losing their entire ACP broadband subsidies after the month, unless Congress provides additional funding, according to the FCC.

The ACP and its predecessor program, the Emergency Broadband Benefit discount, helped millions of Americans keep pace with the digitization of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to retired University of Wisconsin professor of telecommunications Barry Orton. The pandemic, Orton said, showed internet connectivity was no longer a luxury but a necessity.


“Kids were doing their homework in the McDonald’s parking lot so they could get broadband and connect to their servers so they can do their homework,” Orton said. “People were doing their work from parking lots. School districts had to put up emergency hotspots so that kids could do their homework. All of those things happened, and so the realization became, very quickly, that we have developed into a society that depends on broadband.”

December 2020, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, a $2.3 trillion spending package of which $3.2 billion was set aside for the FCC to establish an Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund, according to the FCC and The Hill. Jan. 1, 2021, the FCC launched the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and was soon providing subsidies to 9 million low-income households, according to FCC spokesperson Paloma Perez.

The success of the EBB program led to Congress allocating a larger pot of money, $14.2 billion, to the FCC as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law with instructions to develop and maintain the ACP — a federal program that offers eligible households a discount on their monthly internet bill and a one-time discount off the purchase of a laptop, desktop computer or tablet, according to the FCC.

After nearly three-and-a-half years of operation and the expansion of the program to include subsidies for 23 million households in the U.S., the FCC is preparing to wind down ACP benefits this April due to the exhaustion of their original funds, according to Perez.

The ACP, which has produced economic benefits at nearly double the rate of the cost of the program, has consistently received bipartisan support from Congress and local officials across the country, but receiving fresh funds will likely be a terminal hurdle, according to Perez.

“There’s bipartisan support,” Perez said. “There are over 170 co-sponsors in the House on both sides of the aisle. We have tons of support from mayors and governors, bipartisan support. We have support of the internet service providers. We have support of the consumers. We have the support of the outreach folks, but really the key piece is getting Congress to figure out a way to fund this.”

Despite broad support of the ACP, other issues of importance receive funds, which can leave little funding available for the ACP, according to Orton.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin under Gov. Evers’ leadership have piloted two tracks to expand internet access in the state — grant awards through the Capital Funds Project and the creation of a homegrown broadband subsidy program, the Wisconsin Digital Equity plan, according to a Wisconsin Broadband Office press release.

The Capital Projects Fund is a $10 billion grant program for states, territories, freely associated states and tribal governments to fund critical capital projects that enable work, education and health monitoring in response to the pandemic, including expanding broadband access, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The Wisconsin PSC awarded $43.2 million in grants March 7 funded by the Capital Projects Fund to expand broadband access across the state, according to a Wisconsin Broadband Office press release.

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin under Gov. Tony Evers’ administration developed the Wisconsin Digital Equity Plan, which aims to ensure all Wisconsinites will have equitable access to affordable broadband service, according to the Public Service Commission.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration accepted Wisconsin’s DEP March 21, making the state eligible to receive approximately $24 to $30 million in Digital Capacity Grant funding to implement the DEP in the next five years.

Federal assistance programs like Pell Grants, reduced lunches and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have leveled the playing field for her and generations of Americans and made it possible for low-income families to succeed in the U.S., Perez said. Today, internet subsidies are the next step in ensuring low-income Americans are not left behind, according to Perez.

“There is no way that I stand before you now as a first-generation college student, first-generation American daughter of Peruvian and Mexican immigrants … there is no way that could have happened if it wasn’t for the investment of policymakers decades before me, and we’re kind of in that same space now to make investments in decades of Americans and people who live in this country,” Perez said. “Again, we’re in a really critical and pivotal moment.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated April 15 to reflect Wisconsin PSC’s role in expanding internet access across the state.

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