“The ACP is not just a program; it’s an acknowledgement that the internet is a public utility and will increasingly become as fundamental as electricity.”
In our increasingly digital world, in which the internet is the access point for education, employment, healthcare, and community, there is a looming threat that could jeopardize connectivity for 21 million Americans: the impending expiration of funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
Far too many of our neighbors still lack affordable, reliable internet access, also known as the digital divide. Just before the pandemic, as many as 1 in 4 New Yorkers had no access to the internet at home—either through broadband or through their mobile devices.
The federally-funded Affordable Connectivity Program has been a critical connector for underserved communities, like the ones I represent in Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Ridgewood. The ACP program, which was launched at the end of 2021, provides qualifying households with a $30 monthly discount for broadband service, and in a short two years, has helped connect 21 million Americans.
But time is running out—unless Congress acts to extend the funding, it will likely be depleted as soon as spring 2024. As a community organizer and activist for my constituents for nearly a decade, I wholeheartedly support renewed funding of the ACP.
The ACP is not just a government program; it’s a lifeline. In our neighborhoods, where the struggle for financial stability is an everyday reality, the ACP has been instrumental in providing affordable broadband internet access. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the profound disparities in digital access, making it abundantly clear that we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.
As our communities grappled with the challenges of remote work and learning, the ACP emerged as a crucial equalizer. It has transformed the lives of countless communities, ensuring that our children could continue their education, that workers could stay employed, that families and friends could stay connected during a time of isolation, and that vulnerable individuals could access telehealth services and benefit programs.
But for this transformative program to continue its essential work, we must secure its refunding. President Joe Biden has requested $6 billion in additional funding from Congress for the ACP to continue through 2024. The benefits extend far beyond individual households; they strengthen our communities, fostering economic development, innovation, and a sense of belonging.
The ACP embodies our shared values of equity and justice, through the idea that every person, regardless of their economic status, deserves the opportunity to thrive in our digital society. We must recognize the imperative of sustaining and strengthening this program, not just in the short term, but as a permanent fixture of our commitment to equity and connectivity—and as a baseline if we want everyone to have a chance to succeed in our digital society.
I call upon our elected leaders in Congress to recognize the urgency of this matter—and act to avoid the imminent harm that could impact millions of Americans overnight. By refunding the Affordable Connectivity Program, we take a significant step toward closing the digital divide and creating a more inclusive, connected, and resilient society.
The ACP is not just a program; it’s an acknowledgement that the internet is a public utility and will increasingly become as fundamental as electricity. Together, we can equitably bridge the digital divide and ensure that no one is left in the shadows of the digital age.
Jennifer Gutiérrez is a member of the New York City Council representing Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood in District 34. She is chair of the Council’s committee on technology.