President Joe Biden said that his infrastructure law had cut broadband internet bills for millions of Americans, casting the program as part of his efforts to fight high inflation.
But Biden urged millions more families who qualify but haven’t signed up to take advantage of the initiative, called the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Families earning twice the federal poverty level or less, about $55,500, are eligible for a $30 per month discount on internet services. So are those receiving many other federal benefits for low-income people, including Medicaid, Pell grants and food aid.
The Biden administration said Monday that 20 of the largest broadband providers would make high-speed plans — at least 100 megabits per second — available for $30, making the plans free after the discount. The companies cover about 80% of the U.S. population.
“We made sure there would be no hidden fees, no tricks — this is straight-up stuff,” Biden said.
He added later: “My top priority is fighting inflation and lowering prices for families and things they need.”
More than 11.7 million households are participating in the $14.2 billion program already, but about 48 million are eligible, according to the White House. Participating companies include the nation’s two largest cable providers, Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc., as well as Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris said the program could prevent low-income families from having to use communal internet access, describing parents parking at McDonald’s Corp. restaurants so their children can do school work.
“In the 21st century, access to the internet is essential for success,” Harris said.
Critics of U.S. broadband providers have long complained that their basic internet plans are too expensive. Biden’s White House last year said that “Americans pay too much for the internet” and pledged to reduce prices.
“For the millions of Americans who do not qualify for the ACP, broadband will continue to be priced as a luxury,” Chris Lewis, president of Public Knowledge, a group that advocates for an open and more affordable internet, said in a statement. “How can a broadband company afford to offer service for $30 at high speeds for some, but not for others?”
Internet providers said government funding helps to make service more widely available to low-income Americans.
“Internet for all requires the partnership of business and government, and we are pleased to be working with the administration, Congress and FCC to ensure everyone has accessible, affordable and sustainable broadband service,” AT&T Chief Executive Officer John Stankey said in an email.
Dave Watson, president of Comcast Cable, in a statement called the Affordable Connectivity Program “a historic opportunity to close the digital divide.”
The U.S. government launched a website, GetInternet.Gov, to allow people to find a qualifying plan, among other measures to increase the number of households that are participating.
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