November 9, 2023
By Jennifer Prather, CEO, Totelcom Communications
Chair of USTelecom’s Leadership Committee
As the past few years have made clear, access to high-speed broadband is critical to daily life. It is an indispensable gateway to finding jobs, accessing education and health care, connecting with family and friends, and participating in our digital economy. But connectivity can only be truly universal if it is affordable to everyone.
While the biggest broadband provisions of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) focused on building physical broadband networks, legislators clearly understood all the infrastructure in the world would be meaningless if those struggling financially couldn’t afford connectivity. That’s why Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) as part of the IIJA, to make free or very low-cost broadband service possible to eligible households.
Policymakers across the political spectrum widely tout the ACP as essential to ensuring that affordability does not impede connectivity. Yet the ACP funding level is now running dangerously low, with existing funds likely to be depleted early next year — more than 21 million households are counting on Congress to ensure their connectivity continues uninterrupted and that they’re not left on the wrong side of the digital divide. The Administration recently requested $6 billion from Congress to ensure the continuation of this critical program, so now it’s time for Congress to act.
The ACP has been a game-changer, especially for many in rural America. For numerous Totelcom customers in Texas, it has facilitated connections that would have otherwise been impossible. In my community, people have remained connected during challenging times, such as job transitions, and while caring for ailing family members on limited incomes. Without this vital digital access, these situations would have been even more challenging, so ensuring the ACP is funded is crucial.
For other rural communities, broadband has brought health care to sparsely populated areas where hospitals have closed, and the nearest specialist may be 100 miles or more away. And it has expanded educational and job opportunities, so people don’t have to choose between providing for their families and residing in the communities they love.
Congress should ensure that low-income households across the country can stay connected to these opportunities powered by broadband. In other words, Congress should make it clear that the ACP is a commitment Americans can count on and keep this important program funded.