Some Maryland households face disconnect from federal discount internet program


WASHINGTON – Over 287,000 Maryland households risk losing access to high-speed internet at the end of this month unless a bipartisan agreement can be struck in Congress to extend a discount program.

Around one in eight Maryland households benefits from the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides a monthly discount on high-speed, broadband internet costs to qualifying homes. Marylanders have saved $8.3 million on monthly internet bills statewide, according to the White House.

The Biden administration is pushing Congress to support an extension of the broadband program.

President Joe Biden requested an additional $6 billion in funding for the program last October.

Last month, he made public appeals for support in tweets.

“During the pandemic, we saw just how essential high-speed internet really was — from telemedicine, online school, and small business e-commerce to the ability of millions to work remotely and connect with one another when it wasn’t safe to gather,” Biden said.

“It’s past time Republicans in Congress joined their Democratic colleagues and worked to pass funding for this essential program.”

A bipartisan effort by 17 senators to amend the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill to include $6 billion for the internet program failed Thursday. Senate leaders resisted efforts to include the program and other non-aviation-related amendments in the FAA measure.

“Congress must take action to save the ACP to lower costs for American families, boost the economy, and promote job creation and economic mobility,” Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico, said in a statement. He was the sponsor of the amendment.

In the House, 122 Democrats and Republicans on Thursday wrote a letter to congressional leaders urging action to preserve the discount internet program.

“While certain bipartisan reforms to the program are necessary to improve efficiency and effectiveness, it is the most vulnerable families across the nation that will bear the burden of our inaction if funding lapses,” the lawmakers warned.

The program offers internet discounts of up to $30 a month for qualifying households and up to $75 a month for homes on tribal lands, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Also available is a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating internet service providers under conditions.

A Baltimore-based X user under the pseudonym“Fearturnip” tweeted in January about the program’s pending expiration, saying, “Not only is the national Affordable Connectivity Program tanking in April, the Maryland Broadband Benefit is also ending.”

“I guess we’re back to ‘normal,’ where the digital divide ravages America.”

Over 23 million households nationwide have benefitted from the program, according to the software companyWhistleOut, with most of the program’s beneficiaries being low-income, veterans, minorities, and seniors.

More than 77% of discount internet program users said losing their benefits would force them to change their internet plan or drop internet service entirely, according to an FCC survey last year.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, met with St. Mary’s County leaders and county stakeholders last month to discuss his plans for keeping the internet accessible to low-income households and securing funding for the internet program.

Hoyer said he is committed to “narrowing the digital divide” and enabling everyone in Maryland’s 5th District with internet access, according to the Lexington Park (Maryland) Leader.

“The Affordable Connectivity Program has transformed St. Mary’s County and communities across the country,” Hoyer said. “Education, health care, and our economy rely on America’s workers, students, seniors, and families being connected to the internet.”

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