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Published: Feb 17, 2022 8 min read
Image of a router and a person in the background using a computer
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A federal program that helps pay internet bills for millions of Americans is now available to a much bigger group of people. At the same time, the program is becoming less generous, with the monthly broadband subsidy dropping from $50 to $30 for the vast majority of those eligible.

As part of the Biden administration’s stimulus package from March 2021, the federal government has been providing nearly 9 million low-income households a monthly subsidy of $50 to cover the cost of high-speed internet. The original program, called the Emergency Broadband Benefit, stopped accepting new applicants in December 2021.

If you are were already enrolled, you’ll receive the same discount until March 1. The new discount internet program taking the place of the Emergency Broadband Benefit is already up and running. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) launched Dec. 31, 2021, as a long-term extension of the original stimulus benefit.

While the new program is ultimately available to more Americans, the main subsidy is now $30 for most folks. In addition to the monthly subsidy, the ACP provides a one-time stipend of up to $100 to use for the purchase of computers and tablets.

The ACP was enacted as part of the sprawling bipartisan infrastructure package, and recently, the White House has been championing the program as an “historic accomplishment” while reminding Americans to apply.

“Thanks to the Affordable Connectivity Program, one in four American households are now eligible to receive a discount on their monthly internet bill,” said Vice President Kamala Harris in a Feb. 14 speech, highlighting that the new program has already enrolled 10 million households.

Here’s what else you should know about the government’s new broadband affordability program.

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Emergency Broadband vs. Affordable Connectivity: What's different?

The new Affordable Connectivity Program — while similar to the old program — has several key differences. For folks who were already a part of the old broadband subsidy, the biggest change is a lower monthly subsidy: $30 for most qualifying Americans, down from $50. (The $75 subsidy for Americans living on tribal lands is staying the same.)

If you were one of the approximate 9 million households who were enrolled in the original stimulus-era program, you were given a “60-day transition period” as the new program got up and running. During this time, you could keep your $50 monthly subsidy.

That transition period is slated to expire March 1. If you were part of the initial program, you will probably have to pay more out of pocket for home internet as the new program kicks in.

It’s unclear if you will be automatically rolled over into the new ACP or if you will be required to reapply. The Federal Communications Commission says more information on this will be available “in the coming weeks.”

If you received money for a computer or tablet under the original program, you won’t be eligible for another stipend under the ACP.

Who qualifies for discounted or free internet

You’re eligible for the new internet subsidy if your household income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty line. This marks a sizable expansion from the original stimulus program, which set the income limit at 135% of the poverty line.

The income threshold changes depending on the size of your household. Here are a few examples of the income limits:

  • Household of one: $25,760
  • Household of two: $34,840
  • Household of three: $43,920
  • Household of four: $53,000
  • Household of five: $62,080

And so on. You can add $9,080 in income for each additional individual in your household. Federal poverty income limits are higher if you live in Alaska or Hawaii. You can check the income thresholds on the ACP website.

If you don’t fall within that income threshold, you may still qualify if someone in your household is participating in one of the following programs.

The eight eligible federal assistance programs:

  • Federal Pell Grant
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance
  • Free and Reduced-Price School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program
  • Medicaid
  • SNAP aka food stamps
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children aka WIC
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit

Additional tribal assistance programs include:

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
  • Head Start
  • Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

If you already receive Lifeline benefits, a telecom discount program through the FCC, you’re automatically eligible for the subsidy as well. The ACP website says you’ll be able to receive both benefits simultaneously.

Again, the new monthly subsidy amounts are $30 for non-tribal households. The subsidy for households on tribal lands is staying at $75.

According to market research firm Park Associates, U.S. consumers on average pay $64 per month for broadband plans. Some providers offer plans for much lower, and with the subsidy, the plans could essentially become free. AT&T, for example, created a $30 plan specifically for the ACP program, and budget providers like Wow! have broadband plans starting at $19.99.

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How to apply to the Affordable Connectivity Program

To get started with your application, you can head to ACPBenefit.org or call 877-384-2575.

You may apply online or by mail by completing a physical application form (available in English and Spanish) and sending it to the following address:

USAC
Affordable Connectivity Support Center
P.O. Box 7081
London, KY 40742

The online application will forward you to a separate online portal through CheckLifeline.org. Regardless of the method of application, you’ll need several documents and details including your Social Security number, tribal ID number or other government-issued ID. You’ll also need to provide what income bracket your household falls under, where you live and which federal assistance program you receive, if applicable.

Once approved, you should be able to get your monthly bill subsidized if you get your service from more than 1,000 partner providers. If a partner service provider isn’t applying your discount properly, you can file a complaint with the FCC.

“No matter who you are, or where you live in this country,” FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Feb. 14 event, “you need access to broadband to have a fair shot at 21st-century success.”

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