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Missouri households in danger of losing affordable internet access

The future of affordable broadband internet access is uncertain for 1 in 6 households across Missouri as the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) runs out of funding. 

Launched in December 2021, the ACP allows households that qualify to save up to $30 a month on their internet bill. The program also helps households obtain technology, such as laptops and other computers. 394,043 Missouri households are currently enrolled in the program. 

But that number could soon drop to zero as funding for the program is running out. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website, the program stopped taking in new applicants earlier this month. The FCC states that “Barring additional funding from Congress, April is expected to be the last month enrolled households will receive the full benefit.”

Janie Dunning of the Show Me Broadband spoke about the importance of the ACP at a press conference earlier this week. 

“No one should have to choose between the ability to improve their lives with access to the internet or food. This is unacceptable,” Dunning said. 

Loyd Rice, Senior Manager of Fiber Services at SEMO Electric Cooperative spoke about the possible effects on households who might lose their benefits after receiving them for years. 

“That’s a big deal, that is going to impact rural Southeast Missourians and a much larger number of rural and urban Missourians across the board. This program cannot end. In all the things officials are elected to do, this program cannot end and we have to do something about it, ” Rice said. 

Dorothy Burell, a recipient of the ACP program, also spoke at the press conference which was held over Zoom. Unfortunately, Burrell was unable to speak over Zoom due to internet issues and had to call in. 

Burell spoke about the benefits of the ACP. She claimed that the ACP has allowed her to do online doctor visits, as well as buy groceries and medications online.

“It would be real heartbreaking if they take it from us because it really does benefit us. It gives us hope that we are able to connect to the world and be able to better ourselves,” Burrell said. 

Broadband has been a priority in the state for years and at the start of 2024 funding for state programs to address disparages in broadband access ramped up. During his final State of the State Address, Governor Mike Parsons announced 1.7 billion dollars of broadband funding from the Digital Equity Act (DEA) and the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. 

Last Friday, the Missouri Department of Economic Development’s (DED) Office of Broadband Development (OBD) released a map showing broadband access across the state. 11% of the state remains unserved according to the map. Now it may be harder for people who do have broadband access to afford it. 

State Representative Louis Riggs, who chairs the Workforce and Infrastructure Development committee, spoke about the potential impact of the ACP losing funding. 

“What are we telling people? We’d love you to have it but you need to decide between this and whether or not you are going to eat. That is really not where we want to be in terms of the state and getting these people into the 21st century where they belong.” 

There are still efforts to fund the ACP going through Congress. The Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act of 2024 is a bipartisan and bicameral piece of legislation that would allocate 7 billion dollars to help fund the ACP to the end of the year. Both the Senate and House versions are currently in committee.

According to the FCC, an official end date for ACP benefits has not been announced.