Breaking Through: Navigating the Emerging Issues of ACP and the Future of Broadband in the US. As a leading provider of broadband services, we are always looking for ways to improve our offerings and stay ahead of the competition. One of the key issues that we have been following closely is the future of ACP, or the Advanced Communications Policy Act, which regulates the deployment of broadband networks in the US. In this article, we will discuss the emerging issues related to ACP and their potential impact on the broadband industry.
Uncertainty about the future of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) emerged as a key issue at a House oversight hearing on broadband and the digital divide on Wednesday.
The hearing was designed to discuss ways to avoid waste, fraud and abuse with federal broadband subsidy programs, following a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last year finding “significant overlap” amongst federal broadband programs and calling for a national broadband strategy.
“The success of the federal broadband investments are inextricably linked to the ACP program,” she said. “ACP improves the business case for investing in rural areas, reduces household broadband service cancellations and increases the likelihood that service providers will achieve a reliable return on investment.”
The ACP was created via the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) as a long-term replacement for the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program. The ACP currently provides up to $30 per month toward broadband for nearly 18 million low-income households (up to $100 per month for households on tribal land); as well as one-time device discounts. But the program is projected to run out of funding by sometime next year, generating alarm in the industry about the potential fallout.
Without the ACP, Siefer added, “millions of people will not have access to the internet and it will be just as it was during the pandemic when we saw how it impacted health, education, work, every aspect of life.”
Background on ACP
The ACP was originally enacted in 1984 as part of the broader Communications Act and was later amended in 1996 to reflect changes in the telecommunications industry. The ACP sets out a framework for regulating the deployment of advanced communications services, including broadband, and aims to promote competition, innovation, and investment in the sector. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for implementing and enforcing the ACP, and has the authority to regulate the rates, terms, and conditions for access to broadband networks.
Emerging Issues for ACP
Recently, there have been several emerging issues related to ACP that could have a significant impact on the broadband industry. These include:
1. Net Neutrality
Net neutrality refers to the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally, without discrimination or favoritism. The FCC adopted net neutrality rules in 2015, but these were later repealed in 2018 under the current administration. However, some states have passed their own net neutrality laws, which could lead to a patchwork of regulations and legal challenges. The outcome of these disputes could affect the ACP by either strengthening or weakening its regulatory framework.
2. 5G Wireless Networks
5G is the latest generation of wireless networks, which promises to deliver faster speeds, lower latency, and greater capacity than previous technologies. However, the deployment of 5G networks requires significant investment in infrastructure, including new cell towers and fiber optic cables. The ACP could play a key role in facilitating or hindering the deployment of 5G networks, depending on how it is implemented and enforced.
3. Rural Broadband Access
One of the longstanding challenges for the broadband industry is how to provide access to high-speed internet in rural areas, where the cost of deployment can be prohibitively high. The ACP includes provisions to promote universal service, including subsidies for providers that serve high-cost areas. However, some stakeholders argue that the current subsidies are insufficient and that the ACP needs to be updated to reflect the changing needs of rural communities.
Bracing for industry impact
Calls for ACP funding are starting to grow within the industry. At a press conference in March, Grant Spellmeyer, CEO of ACA Connects, which represents small and independent cable operators, called fixing ACP’s funding gap “the biggest issue for the second half of this year.”
And earlier this week, Verizon’s Kathy Grillo, senior vice president and deputy general counsel, public policy and government affairs, published a blog post calling for the program to be extended.
“To date, almost 18 million American households have signed up for the program. However, current projections show that ACP funding could run out as soon as the first quarter of 2024,” said Grillo. “We believe Congress needs to develop a plan to keep the ACP program funded while also developing long-term reforms to current broadband subsidy programs to ensure they operate efficiently, avoid duplication, and target funding to those who need it most.”
According to comments made by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) during Wednesday’s hearing, all Republicans on the oversight committee signed a letter to the FCC Inspector General this week, referring to the ACP as “temporary” and asking whether the FCC had “prepared participating providers for potential lapses in ACP funding.” (Light Reading has requested a copy of the letter.)
In conclusion, the future of ACP is an important issue for the broadband industry, as it has the potential to shape the regulatory framework for years to come. Net neutrality, 5G wireless networks, and rural broadband access are just a few of the emerging issues that could affect the ACP. As a leading provider of broadband services, we are committed to working with policymakers and other stakeholders to ensure that the ACP promotes competition, innovation, and investment in the sector, while also protecting the interests of consumers and the public at large.