CofC joins lobby to extend broadband subsidy through September
A Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce (CofC) delegation recently visited Washington, D.C., with a packed agenda, which included lobbying for the extension of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which currently aids 662,614 households in Puerto Rico through at least September.
Wanda Pérez, who chairs the CofC’s Telecommunications and Technology Committee, told News is my Business that the possible cessation of the subsidy, which provides up to $30 a month to participating households for their broadband bills, would represent “a blow” to the island, which is a major user of the program.
“For Puerto Rico, this has been an extremely successful subsidy program. There are 1.2 million homes in Puerto Rico, so this means that more than half of them are using this subsidy to have a broadband account,” she noted.
Last month, the Federal Communications Commission released an order announcing steps to wind down the program due to the unavailability of additional funding from Congress under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The FCC has given telecom companies a checklist with key dates and instructions to prepare subscribers for the program’s potential end.
The existing ACP funds are expected to run out in April, but sectors are banding together to get Congress to extend program funding through at least September.
On Jan. 10, several lawmakers introduced H.R. 6929 to appropriate an additional $7 billion for the ACP, which supports 23 million U.S. households.
The FCC “was only able to start informing customers about the end of this subsidy recently, so they’re just now learning about this,” Pérez stated. “We want to support H.R. 6929, which established an additional fund to extend the program to at least September.”
As of November 2023, the ACP represented more than $386 million invested in Puerto Rico. Sixty-six internet providers currently offer the program, the local government confirmed last month.
“It’s not just the customers who are affected, but the companies as well, who suddenly have to transition those beneficiaries to a regular plan,” Pérez said.
“Yet, there’s concern about the environment currently in Congress with the budget and all of the other measures that they’re trying to pass, which require additional funding allocations,” Pérez said. “So while there’s support for the bill, we walked away with the impression that the solution will not be immediate.”
Last week, the White House released a fact sheet about the program and the Biden administration’s actions to get Congress to pass legislation to extend it.
On Oct. 25, 2023, the administration requested from Congress an additional $6 billion to prolong the ACP.
“In the 21st century, affordable, reliable high-speed internet is critical in order to access education, health care, and work, engage in precision agriculture, and keep in touch with loved ones. Still, too many are left without high-speed internet because they lack the infrastructure or are inhibited by high costs,” the White House stated.
“In particular, these inequities impact underserved communities, rural communities, veterans and older Americans where the lack of affordable, reliable high-speed internet contributes to significant economic, health and other disparities,” it added.