The FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program picks up steam with 10M signups

The news: More than 10 million US households have signed up for the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, a big win for the Biden administration’s initial efforts to provide connectivity to underserved communities.

Why it’s worth watching: The FCC’s program was designed for low-income households to receive $30 off their monthly internet services, or up to $75 off for those living on tribal lands, per Protocol. 

The Affordable Connectivity Program grew out of pandemic-related initiatives under the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which offered low-income households $50 off their monthly bills. The EBB, however, exposed a number of issues, mostly from carriers.

  • Spectrum required applicants to opt in to “undiscounted” coverage once the subsidy ends as a condition of enrollment, forcing users to pay higher bills or cancel coverage entirely.
  • Verizon was also caught requiring customers to enroll in more expensive plans. It later reversed course and allowed people to keep their old plans.

The bigger picture: While affordability is the top concern for adults without broadband subscriptions, the fear and uncertainty of getting hit by surprise bills could further deter adoption. 

  • Around 18.5 million US households lack broadband access because of its cost. Those making less than $30,000 per year shoulder most of the burden.
  • For context, 25% of respondents to a Pew survey said they did not use broadband because they lack access. A much larger portion (45%) said cost was the main reason they didn’t use broadband. 
  • The FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program and the $1.2 billion Rural Broadband Accountability Plan will need outreach and closer monitoring to earn the confidence of underserved households and gain adoption.
  • The FCC is looking into reports of “redlining,” or digital discrimination, when regional monopolies refuse to upgrade minority neighborhoods they don’t deem profitable enough to serve.