Gillibrand proposing bill that would keep funding program that helps low-income households access internet

Bill will keep funding for low-income internet help program

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In a world where connectivity is key, new federal legislation announced Friday aims to fund a program that thousands across our region rely on for access to broadband internet.

With the Affordable Connectivity Program set to run out of money by April, new legislation would keep financial assistance available through the end of the year.

Thousands who benefit from the Affordable Connectivity Program to access high-speed internet in our region are at risk of losing it, as Congress has not funded its continuance.

Some 76,000 low-income households in Monroe County currently depend on the program, which provides a monthly discount of up to $30 per month off the cost of internet service and equipment as well as a one-time discount of up to $100 off a laptop — and all that is at risk.

Josh McElliot, who was downtown at Rochester Central Library Friday, says he supports legislation proposed by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would fund the Affordability Connectivity Program through the end of the year.

“We live in a day and age now where internet is part of a necessity. It’s the same as water and heating is now,” McElliot said. He added: “Anything to help low-income housing because it will also help grow the city itself if kids have a good experience getting education here, people have a good experience living here, people will want to stay.”

At the Rochester Public Library’s Arnett Branch on Friday, Gillibrand was joined by Mayor Malik Evans and other city leaders to announce her bill calling for an additional $7 billion in funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program. Without it, those on the program will be forced to pay full-price for broadband internet.

Gillibrand says the additional funding will ensure that those who depend on the program for things like remote working, online classes and telehealth appointments will continue to receive their subsidy. Gillibrand says many Americans depend on this program to stay connected.

“Twenty-three million Americans have signed up for this out of 300 (million). we have 300 million Americans in the United States; and in New York, it’s 1.7 million households,” Gillibrand said.

The program provides a monthly discount of up to $30 per month off the cost of internet service and equipment. In qualifying rural communities and tribal lands, the discount could be up to $75.

If the legislation is approved, the program will remain through the end of the year. If it does not get approved, the funding runs out by April 9, putting the program in serious jeopardy.

There has been opposition to continuing to fund the program. In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission in December, Senators Ted Cruz and John Thune argued that program subsidies have gone to households that already have high-speed internet and that they don’t trust current oversight of the program.

Teresa Correa, leaving the central library Friday, said internet access is something all people need — which is why the library is always your safest bet.

“Just doing homework or, even after COVID, you still need to go some place to research. You may not have access to certain internet connections, but the libraries do,” she said.