President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden has campaigned on a subsidy program central to his promise to deliver reliable broadband service to every American household. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

A Program Key to Biden’s Campaign Message Is About to Run Out of Funds

The program to bring affordable internet to millions has stopped accepting new applicants.

Joe Biden has touted bringing affordable internet service to families across the country as part of the agenda he wants voters to remember come November. That promise now hangs in the balance as the program runs out of funds and needs action from a divided Congress.

“We do think the funding [for affordable internet] is necessary, but this is a difficult political environment and the budget is going to be tough,” Senator Ben Cardin told NOTUS.

Funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) — a key component of Biden’s 2021 infrastructure law, which provides a discount of between $30 and $75 a month for internet — was supposed to last five years. But because of such high demand, the program officially stopped accepting new applicants at midnight on Feb. 7, and is projected to run out of money by April.

The White House has said without a move from Congress to pass funds, “the program will sunset this spring and millions of Americans may no longer be able to afford high-speed internet service.”

The lapse in funding for the program could undermine a significant campaign message for Democrats this year if voters go without the affordable internet prices they’ve been promised.

The infrastructure bill has been a central part of Democrats’ messaging going into 2024, and lawmakers have particularly singled out federal funding for internet access as an issue that could win over their base.

“I think with the bipartisan infrastructure law, the investments that are ongoing, and quality of life … rural broadband, internet expansion … with so much good news in Georgia over the last three years, I think the president’s in a strong position,” Sen. Jon Ossoff told NOTUS in the fall, citing other aspects of the infrastructure law as well.

Now, Senate Democrats are largely skirting around the political implications of Congress failing to fund the program. Sens. John Fetterman, Richard Blumenthal and Ossoff all told NOTUS they’d like to see a vote come forward.

“I certainly hope not,” Cardin said, when asked if this could hurt Biden’s 2024 message. “The Biden administration has done so much. Look at student loans, look at the Affordable Care Act, look at our economy. He has an incredibly strong record.”

Last month, Sens. Peter Welch, J.D. Vance, among others, introduced a bill that would have allocated $7 billion to the program, allowing it to continue throughout the fiscal year. Reps. Yvette Clarke and Brian Fitzpatrick introduced a companion bill in the House too. Neither the House nor the Senate has held hearings on the bills.

Vance said the bill could get attached to a different piece of legislation. “I don’t know what that vehicle looks like yet, but we’ll see. It will probably be March at the earliest.”

In the meantime, Congress remains stuck in a contentious debate over border security and funding for Ukraine and Israel, in addition to yet another government shutdown deadline on the horizon.

“There’s a group of us working to appropriate additional funds for that program,” Ossoff said. “Putting politics aside, I want to get it done so that folks in Georgia can afford internet access.”

Calen Razor is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.