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Joe Biden broadband infrastructure
The Affordable Connectivity Program discounts internet costs for low-income families by $30 to $75 a month. Evan Vucci/AP

Republicans Show No Urgency in Funding a Key Biden Infrastructure Program

The affordable internet connectivity program serves 23 million low-income households and is running out of money.

In only a few weeks, more than 23 million low-income American households will stop receiving assistance to pay for internet access if Congress fails to act. Despite broad support for the program, Republicans continue to kick the can down the road on funding one of President Joe Biden’s central goals: to ensure affordable internet for all.

“Given the need to fund Ukraine and all the other things, I just don’t expect a vote on that any time soon,” Republican Rep. Greg Murphy said.

“There was some hope of doing it before the Easter recess — that obviously didn’t happen,” Republican Sen. J.D. Vance said. “The question now is what must-pass vehicle could we use to get the program funded, but it’s still very much up in the air.”

Vance was among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who introduced a bill in January that would have allocated $7 billion to the Affordable Connectivity Program. Even then, he insisted the bill would need to be attached to a bigger piece of legislation. Since then, the urgency around keeping the program alive has dwindled in light of other pressing issues. Lawmakers did not include additional funding for the program in their latest $1.2 trillion spending bill.

The Federal Communications Commission, which runs the Affordable Connectivity Program that discounts internet costs for low-income families by $30 to $75 a month, has stopped accepting new enrollments. It announced that April would be the last month for the benefit to be provided in full.

“This means participating households can expect to see the impact of the program’s end on their bills in May,” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel wrote to members of Congress in March.

Some Republicans say it’s a matter of priorities.

“Those are the sort of things that get slotted down for probably end-of-year must-pass bills,” Sen. Thom Tillis said. “We’ve got consensus on the policy. It’s loaded, it’s locked, but we just need to figure out when we can actually move on it.”

Others, including Sens. Ted Cruz and John Thune, argue the program is “inefficient” and “wasteful,” saying in a letter to the FCC that previous surveys have found that only around 16% of ACP recipients lacked broadband before the program. Therefore, they add, it is “speculative to claim that 25 million households will lose broadband if the ACP does not get new funding.”

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“There are serious concerns about that program,” Cruz told NOTUS.

Nonetheless, Democrats have already started to face questions from constituents about the soon-to-end benefit.

“My staff is currently getting phone calls about this. People are saying they would like to see it brought to the floor for a vote,” Texas Rep. Al Green said. “I don’t know why we’re not moving forward, but I hope that it’s not because Biden’s name is associated with the program.”

Sens. Bob Casey and Raphael Warnock say people in Pennsylvania and Georgia, respectively, have come to rely on the ACP, emphasizing the need to catch the window to keep the program alive.

“I know that folks in Georgia depend on it. It’s a connectivity issue that’s related to people’s upward mobility,” Warnock said. “Being connected to broadband is in this century what electricity was in the ’20s. It couldn’t be more urgent.”

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