Included in the Infrastructure Law, initiative saves families $30 per month; other efforts underway to expand broadband access
Congressman Brian Higgins, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Filmore District Councilman Mitch Nowakowski on Friday announced efforts to expand and improve broadband access for families across Western New York. Included in the new federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Law, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides $30 in savings on monthly internet bills and additional resources toward the purchase of a digital device. A large number of households in Western New York will be eligible.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that having reliable at-home internet access is critical for people of all ages to stay connected and maintain access to education, health care, businesses and public services,” Higgins said. “The Affordable Connectivity Program is one of several measures included in the bipartisan infrastructure law that seeks to create long-term solutions to providing affordable internet access to economically vulnerable families, closing the digital divide and ensuring online access for students.”
Poloncarz said, “The need for reliable, at-home internet service has been underscored by the pandemic and the multiple pressures it has put on education, health care, business and every other facet of our lives. Thanks to Congressman Higgins and President Biden, the Affordable Connectivity Program will aid in bridging the informational gap, enabling more families to access the online resources they need to succeed. My administration’s Erie NET initiative will add further to Erie County’s growing internet capacity, adding hundreds of miles of trunk line to assist thousands more underserved county residents in getting on the information superhighway.”
Nowakowski said, “I applaud Congressman Higgins for his leadership and advocacy to improve broadband access in Western New York. Making the Affordable Connectivity Program permanent is a huge win for the working families in the Fillmore District who will be able to better afford internet service as a result. This program will open the door for so many to have improved access to telehealth services, educational programs, career opportunities, banking/financial services, and simply connecting with loved ones. I am excited to see this program bridge the gap for the hardworking residents here in the City of Buffalo.”
King Urban Life Center Executive Director Sirgourney Cook added, “It is critical to the success and sustainability of community members on the east side of Buffalo to have access to secure and quality broadband connectivity. And more importantly, access to the information to take advantage of this important resource and opportunity. The Affordable Connectivity Program will strengthen and support the mission and continued work of the King Urban Life Center to enhance the educational outcome of the children and families who call Buffalo’s east side home.”
In 2020, the Emergency Broadband Benefit was created by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary program provided $3.2 billion to help families afford internet bills as schools, offices and services transitioned to remote work and online programs.
Passed in November 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created the new Affordable Connectivity Program, which replaces the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit with a long-term answer to providing affordable at-home internet access. The program, administered through the Federal Communication Commission and local internet providers, continues providing low-income households with a discount on monthly internet bills, expands eligibility criteria, increases consumer protections, and will continue serving families once the pandemic comes to an end.
The Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount up to $30 per month on the cost of internet service. It also provides discounts up to $75 per month for households on eligible Tribal lands. Additionally, the program includes a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet or desktop computer to eligible households if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
The ACP is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household. In order to qualify, a household must meet any one of the following criteria: an income at or below 200% of poverty guidelines; participates in assistance programs like SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC or Lifeline; participates in Tribal specific programs; is approved to receive benefits under the free or reduced lunch or breakfast program, including through schools that participate in the Community Eligibility Provision; has received a federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income program.
Higgins, Poloncarz and Nowakowski pointed out a large percentage of households in Buffalo and Erie County will qualify. Over 40,000 students received federal Pell Grant awards in the NY-26 and NY-27 congressional districts, which encompass Erie and Niagara counties. More than 168,000 individuals in Erie and Niagara counties are SNAP benefit recipients. Also, 170 school buildings in Erie and Niagara counties provide free school meals to all children in the building under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility provision. Many if not all families with children in the following school districts may be eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program: Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Maryvale, Cheektowaga-Sloan, Cleveland Hill, Ken-Ton, Lackawanna, Lockport, Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield, Sweet Home, City of Tonawanda and West Seneca.
Those enrolled in the EBB as of Dec. 31, 2021, will continue to receive their currently monthly benefit until March 1. They will automatically transition into the Affordable Connectivity Program if they continue to meet the new eligibility criteria. Households that qualified for EBB due to a substantial loss of income as a result of job loss or furlough since Feb. 29, 2020, or by meeting eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s COVID-19 program, must requalify for the ACP.
Eligible households that are not already enrolled in the EBB can enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program by contacting their internet service provider and asking to sign up. To learn more about the program, visit https://www.fcc.gov/acp.
Additional efforts are also underway to expand broadband access locally. Poloncarz’s ErieNET plan will use federal funding provided through the American Rescue Plan to build out a broadband backbone to improve internet service in underserved areas throughout the county. Construction is expected to begin in June.
The bipartisan infrastructure law included a total of $65 billion for broadband build-out and affordability measures. The Affordable Connectivity Program is funded with $14.2 billion. More than $42.45 billion will support broadband equity, access and deployment program grants to states, while the remaining funding will support grants specifically centered on digital equity, rural utilities services, middle-mile projects and tribal broadband connectivity.