ACLU: FCC Needs to Prepare ISPs, Consumers for End of ACP

Dec 20, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband 

Washington, D.C., Dec. 20, 2023 – A major federal broadband subsidy programming could be coming to an end, and that has a leading civil liberties organization concerned about potential consumer harm.

The $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) could run out of money by next April, impacting up to 25 million U.S. households, according to Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel in Nov. 30 House testimony.

The ACP’s potential demise has prompted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to urge the FCC to take the lead in planning for a smooth transition. The FCC runs the ACP.

“If Congress does not step in to fund [ACP], the [FCC] must ensure that the wind down causes as little disruption as possible to consumers. Thus, the [FCC] must promptly implement guidance to Internet service providers (ISPs) about the wind down of the program," the ACLU said in an FCC filing yesterday.

ACLU staff expressed their concerns in a Dec. 14 meeting with four officials from the office of Democratic FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez, the filing said.

In a Dec. 12 speech, Gomez shared her own concerns about the possible end of the ACP.

“Very soon the process to notify households that this critical assistance is going away will start. There will be stress and confusion and a trust rupture that may not be repaired,” she said to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI).

The ACLU stressed that ACP beneficiaries should have sufficient notice to prepare for the loss of ACP’s $30 a month discount on broadband service.

“The wind down should ensure that program beneficiaries have ample notice, so that those customers who might have other ways to pay for their broadband can make a plan for how to connect,” the ACLU.

President Biden has requested $6 billion in new funding for the ACP. Senior House and Senate Republicans are concerned that ACP money was wasted on consumers who had broadband prior to the launch of the ACP in late 2021.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said in a recent letter to Rosenworcel that between 16% and 22% of current ACP enrollees are first-time Internet users and are the most at-risk if ACP funding dries up – a much smaller number than the 25 million that Rosenworcel said would be “unplug [ged]…from the Internet” without ACP assistance.

ACP has various eligibility criteria, including that a household has income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.

The ACLU describes itself as “our nation’s guardian of liberty” for almost 100 years. “With more than 4 million members, activists, and supporters, the ACLU is a nationwide organization that fights tirelessly in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., to safeguard everyone’s rights.”