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Get ready, your internet bill could be increasing

(NEXSTAR) — Millions of U.S. households have been receiving warnings for weeks that the discounted internet or telephone service they’ve had since the COVID-19 pandemic will soon come to an end. That end date is fast approaching, meaning those households will soon have to pay full price again for service.

The Biden administration rolled out the Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, after receiving $14.2 billion in funding for the initiative through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021. Run by the FCC, the ACP provides eligible households (those with an income below 200% of the poverty line, or those in which someone was receiving a government benefit like SNAP, Medicaid, or WIC) with cheaper internet service. 

At its launch, the ACP worked with major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, Spectrum, T-Mobile, and more to provide eligible households with up to a $30 monthly discount on internet service (or up to $75 for households on qualifying Tribal lands) as well as a one-time discount of up to $100 for the purchase of a laptop, tablet or desktop computer. 

Now, the over 23 million eligible households enrolled in ACP could soon stop receiving that bill credit. Since at least January, those same households have been receiving warnings that the ACP will soon begin winding down. The program stopped accepting new enrollments in early February.

“The $14.2 billion Congress initially made available for the ACP is running out,” the FCC said in a fact sheet regarding the end of the ACP. “Due to the lack of additional funding for the ACP, the [FCC] has announced that April 2024 will be the last month that the ACP households will receive the full ACP discount, as they have received in prior months.”

Some households could receive partial ACP discounts into May. Straight Talk, a prepaid wireless service belonging to Verizon, has already told its customers it will “fund your benefits through May 31,” according to a message shared with Nexstar.

So what will happen when the program runs out of funds?

Essentially, the enrolled households will no longer be eligible for discounted internet or phone service by May (unless a provider has informed customers that the discount will continue). 

Some providers, like Spectrum, have informed some customers that they do not need to take any action, and that their service will continue after the program ends, albeit without the bill credit.

Verizon notes that customers will “continue on your plan at the price without the ACP subsidy,” but those who don’t choose to keep their Internet-related services may be disconnected, per FCC requirements. The company informed Nexstar it is “committed to connecting households to reliable home internet” and that it will continue to offer eligible households a home internet discount of up to $20 a month through Verizon Forward

In a statement to Nexstar, a spokesperson for AT&T said that while the company is urging the federal government to find a more permanent solution, AT&T is “committed​ to providing options to help our customers adjust and have a variety of flexible plans available at a great value,” should funding run out. The company already offers Access from AT&T for $30 a month, as well as low-cost plans for mobile broadband service with Cricket Wireless and AT&T Prepaid.

T-Mobile told Nexstar in a statement that it is reaching out to those who would be impacted by ACP ending, and will continue to provide “critical internet access to millions of people who might not otherwise have financial access to it.” The company explained that customers of Metro by T-Mobile, which does offer “many affordable options,” currently on ACP will receive that discount through May, and receive $15 off through their September bill “to assist with the transition.” T-Mobile also noted its other free and low-cost plans.

Nexstar also reached out to Spectrum for comment but did not receive a response before the time of publishing.

There have been efforts in Congress to provide additional funding for ACP. In January, Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) introduced the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, which would provide $7 billion for ACP. 

“We cannot let millions of families across the country fall into digital darkness. Congress needs to bring up the bipartisan Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act and save this vital program. We don’t have time on our side — action is needed now,” Sen. Welch said in a statement earlier this month.

A companion bill was introduced in the House by Representatives Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.). Both versions were referred to their respective appropriations committees in January. 

However, speaking with Nexstar in February, Reps. Marc Molinaro (R-NY) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) say they believe Congress will not let ACP come to an end. 

“We know for a fact that a lot of people are gonna lose internet access if that happens and that’s not good,” Courtney said at the time.

Source: Fox 8 News Channel

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