If You Care About Equity, You Need to Fight for Access to Broadband

Jenna Leventoff / Apr 29, 2024

The average internet user spends seven hours a day online. Every facet of our daily life is online: working, taking classes, speaking with healthcare professionals, reading the news, paying bills, or connecting with friends and family. While many people don’t have access to the internet because it isn’t available where they live, many more don’t have internet access because they can’t afford it. More than 40 percent of households making less than $30,000 a year can't afford the high costs of home broadband service.

For the past three years, the Affordable Connectivity Program has kept more than 23 million US households connected to the internet. The ACP offers eligible low-income households $30 a month towards broadband, or $75 a month for households living on tribal lands or in certain hard-to-serve communities. It also provides low-income households with a one-time $100 discount on a computer or tablet.

Congress created the ACP in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and appropriated $14.2 billion dollars to keep the program funded for five years. But, due to incredibly high demand, that initial appropriation didn’t last nearly as long as intended. On May 1, 2024, ACP recipients will have to come up with an additional $15 a month if they want to stay connected. By June 1st, the subsidy will be completely gone. According to a survey by the Federal Communications Commission, the majority of ACP recipients won’t be able to afford their current internet plan without the subsidy.

Households will be forced to make significant sacrifices to keep their internet, and some may have to make the difficult choice to disconnect or risk losing a basic necessity. According to a Benton Strategy Group survey, 95 percent of ACP participants say the program’s end will cause financial difficulties, and 65 percent fear losing their job or source of income if they lose ACP benefits. Our nation should not require, nor allow, households to choose between a broadband connection or feeding their families and paying their rent. If you care about equity, you should care about broadband access.

An inability to connect significantly impacts families in the short term and will continue to impact them for generations to come. Basic schoolwork often requires an internet connection at home, and students on the wrong side of the digital divide struggle to complete assignments. This jeopardizes not just their ability to learn, but also their future academic prospects. That, in turn, limits their long-term career prospects and earnings potential, creating a cycle of intergenerational poverty. The Benton Group found that 81 percent of ACP parents worry about their children falling behind in school.

The lack of broadband can also negatively impact physical health. Because many rural communities lack the specialists and resources needed to handle complex medical issues, telehealth has been the only way for some rural residents to access specialized care. It can also be particularly challenging for rural and low-income Americans to regularly drive to their nearest city for medical care without reliable transportation. Telehealth enables these communities to access the care they need and deserve that they otherwise would struggle to receive without broadband.

It’s not just economic inequality that makes the inability to connect so problematic. Broadband access is critical for exercising our civil rights and protecting our civil liberties. Because the internet plays a vital role in how we exercise our free speech rights, those without broadband access are largely shut out of one of our largest forums for public debate. The Internet is also critical for individuals in marginalized groups to find community. Internet access has helped many LGBTQ+ individuals build support systems and access information, especially when those resources don’t exist in their hometowns. After Roe v. Wade was overturned, individuals in states that have banned abortion rely on the internet to find locations where they can access reproductive care. Broadband also allows voters to register to vote, find their polling location and access information about candidates’ platforms and policy priorities.

While the inability to connect has serious consequences, a connection can demonstrably improve individual and societal economic success. Milton Perez is the perfect example of how internet access impacts our ability to thrive in society. Before community broadband and the affordable connectivity program, Perez lived in the shelter system for five years, struggling to find housing. Applications for affordable housing were all online, making it hard for Perez to apply. However, Perez was eventually able to get online through a community wi-fi network, apply for an apartment, and enroll in ACP for a continued connection. Now, as a leader with Vocal-NY, he is able to pay it forward by helping other unhoused individuals find a place to live.

The positive effects of affordable internet access can be seen on a global scale. A recent working paper estimated that for every dollar spent on the ACP, America’s gross domestic product would increase by $3.89. Another study found that “A 10-percentage-point increase of broadband access in 2014 would have resulted in more than 875,000 additional US jobs and $186B more in economic output in 2019.”

We must preserve our access to affordable internet. Right now, Senators Peter Welch (D–VT) and J.D. Vance (R-OH), and US Representatives Yvette D. Clarke (D–NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R–PA) have introduced the bipartisan, bicameral ACP Extension Act. This critical legislation would provide an additional $7 billion to keep the ACP afloat through the end of the year. While other efforts are pending, that could sustain ACP beyond 2024 – there simply isn’t time to wait. More than 23 million households are at risk of being disconnected in less than 60 days if Congress doesn’t act now. At the ACLU, we urge anyone who cares about equity to care about broadband access, and urge lawmakers to pass the ACP Extension Act now.


Jenna Leventoff
Jenna Leventoff is a Senior Policy Counsel at the ACLU, where she develops and advocates for policies related to protecting free speech and promoting robust access to communications tools. Prior to joining the ACLU, Jenna served as a Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge where she advocated for ...