Young boy and his dog looking at internet on a computer

6th grader Luis Coronado, Jr., 12, spends time at his home computer which he used to do homework with support from his dog Candy in his family apartment in Huntington Park on April 19, 2024. "I don't know what the government is doing taking the Internet away from the kids," said Luis Coronado, Sr. about the end of Affordable Connectivity Program.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The End of Affordable Internet

The federal funding contained in the Affordable Connectivity Program offered a vital lifeline for people in South Carolina and nationwide. Now we must fight to resurrect such a program so that everyone has digital access that enriches individual lives and communities.

Almost four years ago, Congress established a little-known program called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Since it was created, the program provided millions of Americans with affordable, high-quality internet. It never got much attention, but it’s impact on communities across the country including in South Carolina was enormous.

Launched by the Federal Trade Commission, the program provided eligible households with a discount on internet service of up to $30 every month to bridge the digital divide. Just this year alone, 415,680 families in South Carolina relied on the program, which averaged to about one in five households in the state. In total, the program saved people in South Carolina over $12 million each month on internet service.

Despite widespread support for the program, its funding expired on June 1st. As elected officials representing Silicon Valley, the tech hub of the world, and Chester, Fairfield, and Richland, predominantly Black counties that have struggled with reliable internet, we are fighting to raise awareness about rising internet bills for families and extend the program for another four years.

The ACP is too important to just let it expire without a fight. When bills come due and 23 million American households are suddenly slapped with an additional cost, the people who will hurt the most are our seniors, young students, people in rural areas or food deserts, and those who rely on the internet for activity and a sense of community.

The ACP is too important to just let it expire without a fight.

For many older Americans, the internet is a lifeline. It lets them talk with loved ones, learn about essential services and benefits, and access healthcare information online. Without affordable internet access, seniors may feel lonelier and more disconnected, lowering their enjoyment and quality of life.

Young people will also be hit especially hard by the program ending. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of online educational resources and in an era where technology shapes every aspect of our lives, students need to prepare for jobs in a digital economy. Both of us believe we need to ensure that the next generation has access to good jobs and opportunities and a shot at the American Dream. But we can’t prepare these students for the high paying tech jobs and advanced manufacturing jobs of the future if they don’t have internet access. The internet allows individuals to take advantage of at home remote and virtual trainings.

Another impacted group includes those living in rural areas far away from doctors, hospitals, or pharmacies. The stories we heard about what people went through before this program was enacted were heartbreaking. People were driving for miles and miles just to pick up their medication. Telemedicine provides another, much easier way to receive medical care through remote consultations to prescription refills that can be delivered directly to their homes. People living in food deserts face a similar situation when it comes to ordering groceries and other necessities. Ripping this access away deepens already existing disparities in both healthcare and nutrition.

At any age and in any location, people turn to the internet to find community and make friends. It’s become an essential place particularly for people who may experience discrimination or bullying at school. People with specific hobbies like playing an instrument or running have been able to connect and form bands or running clubs. The ACP empowered people to find like-minded people and pursue their passions and interests online.

The ACP program has improved the lives of millions and opened a new world of social connections, health benefits, education opportunities, and good paying jobs in South Carolina and nationwide. All of us need to speak out now to raise awareness and explore new solutions to protect affordable internet access for all.

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