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Gillibrand introduces bill to revive federal affordable internet program

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks in Watertown in summer 2020. (Provided photo — Sydney Schaefer, Watertown Daily Times)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand wants to revive a program that provided low-cost internet to low-income households — the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Initially authorized in 2021, the ACP provided $30 per month for internet service plans for eligible households making less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, who received SNAP, Medicaid, housing assistance or other social benefits, received a federal Pell Grant award in the previous year, or otherwise met eligibility requirements established by the internet service providers. It would also provided up to $100 for a one-time device purchase, provided the device cost less than $150.

For eligible residents on tribal lands, the program offered up to $75 per month for internet service.

The ACP ran out of money in May, and stopped providing that $30 or $75 discount to recipients across the country.

The program was lauded by advocates during its roughly two-year existence, for providing money to help people get internet access as work and school were shifted to online platforms for many during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With many aspects of work and education still reliant on internet-based platforms after the pandemic, Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she believes the federal program needs to be reauthorized.

“By slashing the cost of an internet connection, it connected rural Americans, seniors, and low-income households to job boards, remote work opportunities, online classes, telehealth appointments, and so much more,” Gillibrand said. “Now that the program has expired, these Americans are forced to pay full price for internet — an unaffordable option for many — or lose access to broadband services entirely.”

Gillibrand introduced a bill in the Senate on Wednesday that would provide $6 billion for the program, which she said would likely last a year. It has bipartisan support from 13 other senators.

Gillibrand also co-sponsors the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, which has 32 bipartisan co-sponsors. That bill would appropriate $7 billion to be used until it’s spent, but was introduced in January and referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it has not yet seen a vote.

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