The ACP's funding shortage could spark legislative response

Representative Yvette Clarke (NY-9) this week hinted that she will introduce new legislation before year’s end to address a significant funding gap for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).

The ACP, which offers free or discounted high-speed internet to qualifying households, is expected to run out of money in April of next year. Clarke and several other representatives addressed that issue at a House Energy & Commerce FCC Oversight Hearing.

“I plan to fight hard to make sure Congress provides the Commission with the administration's full funding request for the ACP,” said Clarke, referring to the Biden administration’s recent request for $6 billion from Congress to ensure the continuation of the ACP. “And to that end, I look forward to introducing legislation on that very subject before Congress concludes its work for the year.”

Clarke did not offer any further detail on such legislation, and her office did not respond to request for comment when contacted by Fierce Telecom.

During the hearing several of her colleagues on the House Committee also raised concern over the ACP’s continuation, including Representatives Marc Veasey (TX-33) and Debbie Dingell (MI-6).

“It is on us here in Congress to ensure that funding for the ACP does not lapse,” said Representative Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), who said the program has a “large impact” on his constituents.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that internet service providers will have to pull the plug in April for “about 25 million households” if the ACP doesn’t receive more funding from Congress.

“If we do that, early in the year, we'll have to let the providers know that they're going to have to give notice to every one of those households, every one of those consumers who counts on this program,” she said.

Rosenworcel was challenged by Representative David Joyce (OH-14), who asked how many, of the over 20 million households she mentioned, paid for broadband prior to their enrollment in the ACP.

“Don't you think that's an important piece of information before we assume that 20 million households will lose that,” said Joyce. “Don’t you think that we have an obligation to assess how many individual households will be affected before we use those numbers.”

The ACP program, written by Congress, does not ask providers to ask that question of each household, according to Rosenworcel. However, she noted the FCC requested that the Universal Service Administrative Company conduct surveys, which found “about 20 or 22%” didn't have internet service prior to enrolling in the ACP.

Rosenworcel added, “But we do have some problems identifying how to determine that with carriers.”

As worries over the ACP continue to mount, advocates of the program have floated a few alternate ideas for how to secure its future.

Some have suggested the FCC eliminate rural broadband programs that are either ineffective or redundant. Another idea tossed around earlier this year suggested the FCC integrate the ACP into its Universal Service Fund framework.

Ultimately, the fate of the program will not only impact consumers, but it will also influence where operators build out their nigh Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment projects, as New Street Research’s Blair Levin previously told Fierce.