Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced yesterday that she, alongside twenty-five other governors, is asking Congress to provide additional funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).
Part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in November of 2021, the ACP represented a $14.2 billion modification to the existing Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program).
Eligible low-income households can receive up to $30 per month off of their internet bill, while households on qualifying Tribal Lands may receive as much as $75 per month. One-time grants are also available for the purchase of laptops, desktop computers, or tablets.
As of this past August, more than 20 million households nationwide had enrolled in the ACP.
In Maine, 94,000-plus households — or roughly 39 percent of those eligible — were enrolled in the ACP as of last month. More than 230,000 households are estimated to be eligible for ACP benefits statewide.
Applications for the ACP began to be accepted on December 31, 2021, and final rules were adopted for the program on January 14, 2022. Over the next few months, several efforts were launched to increase ACP enrollment, especially among recipients of federal housing assistance.
Signed by a coalition of 26 governors — twenty-one Democrats, four Republicans, and one New Progressive — the letter asks Congressional leadership to “work collaboratively with the Biden Administration to ensure” that the ACP receives additional funding.
“There is broad agreement across the political spectrum that affordable high-speed internet is a necessity in today’s world, whether it’s for education, work or health care,” the letter reads. “This is why we urge you to fund this critical program that makes internet access more affordable.”
According to the letter, the ACP could run out of funding as early as April 2024, meaning that the “nearly 20 million households enrolled nationally could lose connectivity as well as all the essential services that come with it.”
“Closing our nation’s digital divide transcends politics,” the governors write. “Whether you live in a rural area, a suburb, or a city, every American needs access to high-speed internet. Preserving the ACP will allow us to build upon the progress we’ve made in expanding connectivity rather than falling behind in a mission we cannot afford to lose.”
In her press release, Gov. Mills points to two state-based efforts that have been made by the Maine State Legislature and her administration to increase internet access throughout Maine.
Legislators nearly unanimously approved a bill in 2021 establishing the Maine Connectivity Authority — a quasi-governmental agency responsible for improving access to affordable, high-speed, broadband internet throughout the state.
Sponsored by Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) and co-sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), the bill enjoyed bipartisan support in Augusta.
Among the members of the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, three Republicans voted against the bill, while seven Democrats and one Republican voted in favor of the final, amended version of the legislation.
In the Senate roll call vote, thirty-four lawmakers voted in support of establishing the Maine Connectivity Authority, none voted against it, and one legislator was excused.
Since its establishment, the Maine Connectivity Authority has undertaken several multi-million dollar projects geared toward expanding internet access throughout Maine.
The second accomplishment highlighted by Mills in her recent press release was the receipt of $272 million in federal funding over the summer to be used in broadband expansion projects statewide.
Funds will be distributed to the state over the course of five years by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) via the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.
As far as the ACP is concerned, it remains to be seen what the impact will be of the efforts made by Mills and her gubernatorial colleagues to push lawmakers in Washington to provide additional funding for the program.