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The Affordable Connectivity Program Has a Lifeline in the Senate

 The Affordable Connectivity Program Has a Lifeline in the Senate

There’s a new plan to revive the Affordable Connectivity Program, a pandemic-era initiative that provides low-income households in the US with discounts on high-speed internet access.

At the end of April, funding for the program was set to run out, affecting millions. But a bipartisan group of senators, led by Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, have proposed using a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization measure as a vehicle for funding the ACP and other telecom programs for a combined $6 billion. Luján’s coalition includes senators J.D. Vance, Peter Welch, Jacky Rosen, Steve Daines, and Roger Wicker.

“Right now, there are over 23 million households participating in this program. That’s more than 55 million people. But it’s not only benefiting these individual families—it’s benefiting their local communities as well,” Luján tells WIRED. “It gives families access to better-paying jobs, to training and education to create economic mobility, to better deals on groceries and household goods. The time is now to save this program.”

The measure also includes a provision for the Federal Communication Commission’s “rip and replace program,” which refunds US telecom providers for removing equipment from Chinese manufacturers including Huawei and ZTE from their networks and replacing it with less-risky tech. Earlier this month, the FCC asked Congress for around $2 billion to help bolster the program, which has faced a shortfall. That initiative has been in place since 2020, which is when the FCC identified Huawei and ZTE as national security threats and then-president Donald Trump signed the “rip-and-replace” bill into law.

“It’s also critical that we adequately fund the ‘rip-and-replace’ program to ensure our country can move forward the effort to remove and replace untrusted technological equipment. This amendment also empowers the FCC to reauction spectrum licenses to free up airwaves and allow more opportunities for the public to access faster internet speeds and more responsive networks,” Luján said.

The Biden administration has made significant investments in broadband expansion over the past few years. In a speech last month, Biden called on Congress to reinvest in the ACP.

“High-speed internet isn’t a luxury anymore, it’s an absolute necessity,” Biden said. “Congress needs to reauthorize that program now.”

Update, May 7 at 7:19 pm: A previous version of this story misidentified the state Ben Ray Luján represents in the US Senate. It is New Mexico.

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