By Mayor Cavalier Johnson
It’s not hyperbole to say that high-speed internet has become a necessity in recent years. The pandemic shined a light on the fact that connectivity is required to ensure our kids are getting the best possible education, that those in the workforce can access job training and employment resources, and that those dealing with physical or mental health issues are able to access the telehealth services they need to live a healthy life. Delivering this much-needed resource to everyone who lacks it has become an essential part of our broader goal to advance equity nationwide, which is why I’m so deeply concerned a key tool in our fight to close the digital divide, the federally-funded Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), is set to expire in the next few months if federal lawmakers do not find a solution to extend its funding.
The ACP provides families with critical financial support to gain a broadband connection they would otherwise be without. An end to the program would have a debilitating impact for so many currently relying on it, including here in Milwaukee. When the ACP launched about two years ago, my Administration understood this program could deliver more than just a connection, it could provide a wide array of services that would improve the quality of life of those enrolling in the program. That’s why we made a concerted effort to get as many eligible Milwaukeeans enrolled in the program as possible. To-date, we’ve enrolled more than 100,000 households in our City, about 80% of the total that is eligible, making us one of the most successful cities in the nation at leveraging the ACP to level the playing field.
If the ACP expires, these more than 100,000 Milwaukee households will be at risk of being disconnected, and that number would be even more grim nationwide. In a recent hearing before the House Energy & Commerce Committee, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel stated that if Congress and the White House do not find a funding solution keep the ACP in place, projections show that by April of next year, the FCC will have to unplug “about 25 million households.”
Those benefiting from the ACP are now able to pursue their educational and economic dreams in ways they had not been able to beforehand. In marginalized communities that too often lack the financial resources needed to be fully supported, students are finally being equipped with the online resources needed to overcome some of the educational disparities that were made even worse as a result of COVID. These same trends apply to telehealth and various other services – the ACP serves as a great equalizer allowing communities to alleviate some of the access disparities that have long plagued our country. Allowing it to end less than three years after launching would pull the rug out from under those who depend on their new connection.
I’m grateful the Biden Administration has included a request for continued funding of the ACP in its recent supplemental request to Congress. Our leaders in Washington D.C. have a duty to ensure we do not lose the historic progress we have made in getting more Americans online.
Too often, Americans are disenchanted with how political gridlock can prevent their elected representatives from finding common sense solutions that benefit the public. We cannot allow that to happen with a program as impactful as the ACP. It’s clear this program is working, is widely popular, and is benefiting those living in rural communities, suburbs, and cities alike. Finding a way to keep this much-needed program in place should be a priority.