ACP versus Lifeline: A Comparative Analysis of Broadband Affordability Subsidies. The Accessible Broadband Pilot Program (ACP) is a new program established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide eligible low-income households with subsidies for broadband internet services. The ACP aims to bridge the digital divide and provide internet access to underserved communities.
On the other hand, Lifeline is an existing program that has been providing subsidies for telephone and broadband services to eligible low-income households since 1985. The Lifeline program is also administered by the FCC.
ACP is projected to run out of funds in 2024, so Congress will need to decide whether to extend the program in the next year. To date, ACP has proved largely effective at connecting Americans to broadband. If Congress allows the program to expire, Americans will likely be left with only Lifeline, an outdated and comparatively ineffective program, as an alternative to connect them to broadband. Further, if Lifeline is the only federal option for affordability support, regulators may look to things such as rate controls or other utility-style regulations to address the perceived need for affordability programs, which would negatively affect broadband deployment and affordability.
This insight compares how each program functions, focusing on the difference in how the programs deliver benefits, their funding mechanisms, and their relative potential for fraud. This insight finds that if Congress wants to provide broadband subsidies, ACP provides the better of the two options for doing so efficiently and effectively, and that allowing the program to expire would leave these consumers with less-optimal alternatives. Moreover, ACP may serve as a future model for addressing low-income broadband affordability, if outdated programs such as Lifeline are retired in the future.
Now, let’s compare ACP and Lifeline based on several factors:
- Eligibility: Both programs have similar eligibility criteria. To qualify for either program, an individual must have a household income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines or participate in certain federal assistance programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- Coverage: The Lifeline program covers both telephone and broadband services, while the ACP program only covers broadband services.
- Subsidy amount: The ACP program provides a subsidy of up to $30 per month for broadband services, while the Lifeline program provides a subsidy of up to $9.25 per month for either telephone or broadband services.
- Implementation: The ACP program is a pilot program and is currently being implemented in select states, while the Lifeline program is a well-established program that is available in all states.
- Budget: The ACP program has a budget of $100 million, while the Lifeline program has a budget of $2.25 billion.
Application process: The application process for both programs is similar, requiring applicants to submit proof of eligibility and complete an application. However, the ACP program requires applicants to be new customers of the participating broadband provider, while the Lifeline program allows current customers to apply for the subsidy.
- Duration of subsidy: Both programs provide subsidies on a monthly basis. However, the ACP program is a temporary pilot program that will expire once the allocated budget is exhausted, while the Lifeline program is a permanent program that is subject to ongoing evaluation and modification.
- Broadband provider participation: The ACP program requires participating broadband providers to offer broadband services that meet certain minimum standards, including a minimum speed of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The Lifeline program also has requirements for participating broadband providers, but these are less stringent than those for the ACP program.
- Future potential: The ACP program is a new initiative that has the potential to expand and become a permanent program if it proves successful. The Lifeline program, while well-established, has faced criticism and challenges in the past and may require ongoing evaluation and modification to remain effective.
In conclusion, while both ACP and Lifeline have similar eligibility criteria, the Lifeline program covers both telephone and broadband services, has a lower subsidy amount, and is available in all states. On the other hand, the ACP program only covers broadband services, has a higher subsidy amount, and is currently being implemented as a pilot program in select states with a smaller budget.
Overall, both ACP and Lifeline are important programs that aim to provide affordable broadband services to low-income households. While there are some differences in coverage, subsidy amount, and implementation, both programs have the potential to make a significant impact in bridging the digital divide and ensuring that all Americans have access to high-quality broadband services.