20 ISPs answer Biden call for faster, cheaper low-income internet plans

AT&T, Comcast and Verizon were among nearly two dozen internet providers which struck a deal with U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to boost speeds and cut costs on internet plans for low-income consumers. The move is designed to ensure sufficient service is available for free to citizens participating in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).

In a press release, the White House said 20 operators committed to offer low-income plans providing speeds of at least 100 Mbps with no fees or data caps for no more than $30 per month. That price point will allow them to be fully covered by the $30 per month subsidy offered by the ACP. According to the Biden administration, that speed tier will also be “fast enough for a typical family of four to work from home, do schoolwork, browse the web, and stream high-definition shows and movies.”

A total of more than 1,300 service providers are currently participating in the ACP, but the White House said the 20 which have signed on to its initiative cover 80% of the U.S. population.

In addition to AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, those making the Biden pledge include Altafiber (formerly Cincinnati Bell), Altice USA, Astound Broadband, Breezeline, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Frontier Communications, Mediacom, Starry, Vexus Fiber and WideOpenWest, among others.

It’s worth noting many operators made moves to roll out plans adhering to the White House guidelines well before this week’s announcement – though the administration cast those changes as part of its initiative.

Mediacom rolled out a $30 per month plan for low-income consumers offering speeds of 50 Mbps in January but later bumped up the speeds to a minimum of 100 Mbps in March. Verizon and Charter also made moves in March, with the former launching its Fios Forward initiative and the latter trotting out a new $29.99 per month Spectrum Internet 100 plan. Comcast likewise debuted a $29.99 Internet Essentials Plus plan in March.

Data from the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC), which oversees the FCC’s universal service programs, showed a total of 11.7 million households have signed up for the ACP. However, the White House noted as many as 48 million – or 40% of households in the country – might be eligible for the program. The administration announced the launch of a new website, getinternet.gov, which will help citizens navigate the sign-up process.

Interestingly, the Biden deal appears to focus exclusively on fixed connectivity, despite data from USAC showing 65% of ACP participants are using the funding for mobile broadband. Though AT&T and Verizon both provide mobile service, the White House press release explicitly notes the latter’s commitment extends to its fixed Fios service only.

Broadband advocacy group Connect Americans Now commended the White House announcement. But MediaJustice executive director Steven Renderos argued in a statement Biden should focus on filling the remaining open seat on the FCC rather than patting operators on the back.

“These companies don’t need a White House ceremony, they need the oversight and regulation that only a complete FCC can provide,” he said. “There is no shortage of crucial items piling up for the FCC’s agenda that we demand be addressed. President Biden’s efforts have not been nearly enough and we urge him to work with Senator Schumer to get the votes necessary to confirm Sohn now and get the FCC fully running.”