The Biden administration announced on Monday that 20 major Internet service providers have agreed to offer basic, low-cost plans that will be free to millions of Americans after refunds.
The 20 companies, including AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA), and Verizon (VZ), cover more than 80% of the US population. They will immediately offer at least one plan that costs no more than $30 per month and offers download speeds of at least 100Mbps.
The White House says 40% of the US population, about 48 million households, will be eligible to enroll through an existing program called the Affordable Connection Program (ACP). The program is low income for Americans and offers participants up to $30 per month discount on their internet bill, which means that they will get the service effectively free if they can get online with one of these participating companies.
John Stankey, CEO of AT&T, said his company’s new plan “when combined with the benefits of federal ACP, provides up to 100 megabits per second of free internet.”
“The Internet for all requires a partnership of business and government, and we are pleased to work with the administration, Congress, and the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that everyone has access to accessible, affordable and sustainable broadband service,” he said.
“High-speed Internet at home is no longer a luxury”
Monday’s news comes thanks to the $65 billion earmarked for high-speed internet in the bipartisan Infrastructure Act. This money has helped fund ACP and is also being directed toward parallel efforts to increase coverage areas and speeds.
“High-speed Internet at home is no longer a luxury: it is a necessity for children, workers to learn to do their work, the elderly and others to access health care through telemedicine, and for us all to stay connected in this digital world,” a senior administration official told reporters in previewing the announcement. .
Families qualify for ACP based mostly on income level. Any household that scores less than 200% of the federal poverty level — $55,500 for a family of four in the continental United States — qualifies. Families can also qualify if they participate in certain government programs such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income.
“The Affordable Connectivity Program is a historic opportunity to bridge the digital divide by enabling more Americans to get online and connect to our increasingly digital world,” said David N. Watson, CEO and President of Comcast.
The full list of participating companies includes Allo Communications, AltaFiber, Altice USA, Astound, AT&T, Breezeline, Comcast, Comporium, Frontier, IdeaTek, Cox Communications, Jackson Energy Authority, MediaCom, MLGC, Spectrum, Verizon, Vermont Telephone Company, Vexus Fiber, and Wow! Internet, cable and television.
Verizon, for example, will now offer its existing Fios service for $30 per month to program participants. Other companies, such as Spectrum, say they will increase speeds of an existing $30-a-month plan to reach the 100Mbps standard set by the White House, as their infrastructure allows.
push more companies tomake the same commitments”
Notably, Monday’s announcement was missing from many small, rural ISPs who will be challenged to meet White House pricing or speed requirements.
“I think there are approximately 1,300 Internet providers participating in ACP right now, and we obviously would love for each of them to make the same commitments as these 20 companies,” said a senior administration official.
These companies cover 50% of the rural population. These Americans are still eligible to sign up for ACP, but they may still experience slower speeds or plans that aren’t fully covered by a $30 refund.
To date, 11.5 million households have signed up for ACP benefits. The program was first created as a relief measure in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, and Biden officials moved to make it permanent as a way to reduce the digital divide.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will speak at the White House on Monday alongside the internet company’s CEOs as part of a first multi-pronged effort to drive subscriptions. This effort includes a new website, GetInternet.gov, and direct outreach from federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration as well as states.
Ben Wershkull is a writer and producer at Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.
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