Rural Telco Trade Group: FCC Needs A Plan For ACP Interruption

Jan 22, 2024

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Jan.22, 2024 – A trade association for rural phone companies is concerned about helping millions of consumers who get bumped from a major broadband subsidy program that is running out of money in a just a few months.

The Federal Communications Commission has issued orders that the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is to stop accepting new enrollments after Feb. 7 as the first step in preparation for the full shutdown of the ACP in April.

The Western Telecommunications Alliance (WTA) is urging the FCC to have a plan in place in case new money for the ACP arrives not long after the program stops operating.

“If delays in Congressional reauthorization or extension cause the ACP program to be suspended or terminated for a period, WTA and its members urge the [FCC] to make it as simple and rapid as possible for RLECs and other service providers to re-qualify eligible customers and resume their ACP broadband service,” WTA said in a Jan. 19 filing with the FCC.

WTA, which represents about 400 rural local exchange carriers (RLECs), said the ACP provides assistance to many households served by its member companies.

“Depending upon the demographics of their service areas, WTA estimates that its members have from about 10% to over 50% of their rural customers enrolled in the ACP program,” WTA said. “WTA members have generally found the program to be important and effective, particularly for lower-income customers who could now afford broadband for online school and medical purposes.”

The FCC’s Jan. 11 ACP shutdown order did not appear to offer guidance to ISPs on resuming the ACP benefit in case of a short interruption in funding.

Started in late 2021, the ACP received $14.2 billion from Congress to provide $30 discounts on monthly Internet bills for low-income households. The FCC has said more than 22 million households have enrolled and that the number could reach 25 million in April.

President Biden has requested $6 billion in new money for the ACP and new bipartisan legislation introduced in the House and Senate would provide $7 billion to fund the ACP through 2024.

Key House and Senate Republicans are concerned that the ACP has been wasteful because it did not focus funding on first-time Internet uses. The FCC has said just 20% of ACP enrollees – or 4.4 million households – were new Internet users.