By Alixel Cabrera
Oregon Capital Chronicle 

Will internet discount program end this spring?

 

February 8, 2024 | View PDF

A COVID-era program allowed 22.5 million low-income households across the country to get discounts on Internet services. But, the funds allocated for it are running out and if Congress doesn’t take action, the program may end this spring.

The Affordable Connectivity Program, a high-speed Internet initiative, provides discounts of $30 to $75 a month on Internet bills. It also allows a one-time discount on the purchase of a laptop, desktop, or tablet computer.

Oregon has received nearly $100 million from the program to provide discounts to almost 225,800 households, or one in eight, according to a White House fact sheet.

Internet providers have already sent a notice to customers warning them about the potential end of the program at the request of the Federal Communicationseet. Commission, said Ariane Schaffer, government affairs and public policy manager at Google Fiber.

“We would like to see Congress find a permanent home for the affordable connectivity program,” Schaffer said. “It has helped so many people, so many families across the country.”

The White House included the program in its list of critical needs, asking Congress for $6 billion to maintain it through December 2024.

If Congress doesn’t grant the funds, the Communications Commission will stop enrolling new people into the program on Feb. 7. As the need for Internet connectivity climbs with more people working and learning remotely and even attending appointments with their healthcare providers online, the program has affected economic growth, Schaffer said.

“This is allowing folks to engage with society, engage with their communities, through school, jobs, all of these benefits,” she said, “and it allows entrepreneurs and businesses who are in underserved communities (to make) sure that folks can stay online.”

Many Internet providers offer access to the discount, which works similarly to a voucher program. Veterans and those whose income is at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines, or who participate in certain assistance initiatives including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid, qualify for the affordable connectivity program.

The initiative was launched as part of the Emergency Broadband Benefits, a Trump administration initiative during the 2020 pandemic, and it was restructured into its current form as part of the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Schaffer urged Congress to fund the program and make it permanent, rather than having to be asked for appropriations every year.

“We see broadband connectivity as leveling the playing field and promoting education for everyone,” she said.

This story comes from the Utah News Dispatch and has been updated to reflect the situation in Oregon. Utah News Dispatch and Oregon Capital Chronicle are part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Utah News Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor McKenzie Romero for questions: [email protected]. Follow Utah News Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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