Free Press Urges the FCC to Prioritize Choice and Consumer Protections as It Implements $14 Billion Affordable Connectivity Program
WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, Free Press submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission as part of the agency’s proceeding on the implementation of the Affordable Connectivity Program (or “ACP”).
The program, approved by Congress as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, dedicates $14.2 billion to be administered by the Federal Communications Commission. The funds will provide households living near the poverty line or enrolled in other federal-aid programs with up to $30 per month for the internet package of their choosing from participating providers.
In its filing, available here, Free Press explains that the FCC has an obligation and the authority to ensure that the program is a success and to remove any barriers that broadband providers might put in the way of people seeking to use ACP benefits to get online.
Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner, lead author of the filing, said:
“Congress has taken a bold step toward fostering more equitable access to broadband for people in need. It’s now up to the FCC to faithfully implement the law and ensure that everyone has access to high-quality affordable broadband-telecommunications services regardless of their income.
“With the Affordable Connectivity Program, millions of low-income families who’ve struggled to find affordable options in this concentrated market are finally seeing the real help they very much need. The program dedicates real money to help make broadband more affordable for low-income households and creates powerful consumer protections against potential abuses by broadband providers that choose to accept these public funds.
“This is essential. Congress made it clear to the broadband industry that any ISP that would try to undermine the program should stay away. Congress gave the FCC the power to carry out its mandate while protecting the interests of the low-income households that the ACP is designed to help.
“As it moves forward, the FCC must put carriers on notice that any abuses of the program or its participants will result in severe and long-lasting consequences. Free Press urges the agency to ignore the likely calls from certain industry members and lobbyists for the FCC to adopt weak rules that would run counter to the plain language of the law.
“Congress did not simply write a blank check to the ISPs that agree to accept the program’s federal support payments. It had the vision to adopt a number of proactive provisions ensuring that households in need of these benefits can fully participate in the broadband marketplace. It gave the FCC the authority to remove any barriers to participation in the program that broadband providers might create. Beneficiaries are expressly permitted to apply their benefit toward whatever broadband internet-access services fit their needs. In practice, this means that ACP-supported customers can apply this benefit to all of the broadband services available in their locations.
“By establishing the ACP on a bipartisan basis, Congress shows that it gets it: High-quality affordable broadband internet-access services are essential to every person’s participation in modern society and the economy. Maximizing this participation is critical to our collective well-being.
“Congress’ message to the FCC is clear: This program is designed to make essential broadband service more affordable for low-income families. Any ISP that would seek to undermine the program should be prepared to accept grave consequences if they dare to abuse the public’s trust in any way.”