Op-ed: Keep broadband internet subsidy going
October 12, 2023
Dunbar ACP Op-Ed 10/11/2023
Growing up in rural Alaska, I understood early the importance of communication technology to
our communities. From community-run public radio to satellite internet, Alaskans have relied on
a variety of means to connect with their neighbors and Outside. Today, broadband internet is an
invaluable tool to provide opportunity and safety to our communities.
This new dependence is not unique to Alaska. In response to our nation’s increased reliance on
high-speed internet, the Biden administration has taken important steps to provide connectivity
to those that need it, particularly in rural areas. The most important step is the creation of the
Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which over 16,000 Alaskan households are currently
enrolled in. The ACP enables eligible Americans to afford broadband internet providing a
monthly voucher which can be used on the cost of an internet subscription. When combined
with the low-income offerings made available by many of the nation’s leading providers that
participate in the program, the voucher can effectively provide families with free broadband.
But the ACP faces an existential threat that could eliminate internet access for the over 16,000
Alaskan households that rely on the program - its funding will run out sometime in 2024.
Extending its funding to ensure that the program continues to exist should be an urgent priority
for lawmakers regardless of partisanship.
A CNBC poll earlier this year found that a significant majority of Americans across party lines
support ACP. This is no surprise: data from the Technology Policy Institute shows that ACP
sign-ups from Republican-represented and Democratic-represented Congressional districts are
essentially the same. Even more, ACP is disproportionately impactful in in rural Alaska where
median income levels are lower than they are in cities.
Politics aside, an end to the ACP would set us back years in our effort to overcome the
affordability gap, a barrier that accounts for two-thirds of our nation’s digital divide. A solution to
this discrepancy in access would have far-reaching benefits. A recent study reflected the
economic benefits of increased broadband adoption for rural regions like Alaska, estimating that
better adoption of online tools and digital services by businesses outside metropolitan areas
could create 360,000 new full-time jobs in rural areas and add more than $140 billion to the U.S.
economy over three subsequent years.
The persistence of the digital divide will continue to mean untapped prosperity for the American
economy, and it’s not hard to understand why. Seemingly every industry stands to benefit by
having access to high-speed internet and all of the essential resources that come with it. This
means not only capabilities for remote working, but also access to information, so those working
in sectors that are more hands-on and less computer-intensive can still utilize the internet to
yield better results. An example of this could be a fisherman that relies on online resources for
market prices, weather forecasts, fishing techniques, and maritime research, or a small
business owner that utilizes online platforms to advertise their product and grow their brand.
Overall, I am hopeful that federal policymakers understand that combatting affordability barriers
are an integral part of getting Americans online. Furthermore, I hope there is tangible action to
prolong the Affordable Connectivity Program. With the program set to expire next year, we need
to find a funding solution soon that keeps this critical program intact.