Congress must protect affordable internet projects – Jamestown Sun

As another election year begins, we can expect to hear plenty of political bickering, negative campaigning, and bitter disagreements. But before we dive headfirst into this maelstrom, Congress has an opportunity to come together and save a program that promotes economic growth, workforce development, and innovation. We’re talking about the Affordable Connectivity Plan (ACP).

ACP, authorized by the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, is simple: It provides eligible citizens with $30 per month of internet service. As we’ve learned during the pandemic, internet access is a necessity, not a luxury. From virtual classroom activities to job hunting to interactions with government agencies, the internet is as much a part of our lives as electricity. ACP helps 21.5 million homes in the United States stay connected, including more than 16,000 homes in North Dakota.

Mike Brandenberg.jpg

Rep. Mike Brandenberg

Photo courtesy of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly

But there’s a problem. ACP funding is set to run out in April. If Congress allows this to happen, millions of Americans who can least afford it will lose their internet lifeline.

And there is a potential solution. A bipartisan coalition of Representatives and Senators recently introduced the Affordable Connectivity Expansion Act (H.R. 6929/S.3565) to provide $7 billion in necessary funding. We are grateful to Senator Cramer for being an original co-sponsor and a strong supporter of keeping this program alive. We’ve asked Senator Hoeven and Congressman Armstrong to join him in ensuring North Dakotans don’t lose access to affordable internet.

Voting to protect ACP should be a matter of course for every member of Congress, for three very simple reasons. The plan is popular, has bipartisan support, and is effective.

Americans generally support the ACP, according to a recent poll. Support spans rural (68%), suburban (78%) and urban (81%) areas, and across all generations, with support peaking among older adults (83%). In fact, no subset of voters (age, income, race, political affiliation, gender, region) had support below 60 percent.

The same poll also showed bipartisan support, including 64% of Republicans, 70% of independents and 95% of Democrats. In a country where divisions seem to be everywhere, Congress has found at least one plan that Trump voters, Biden voters and everyone in between support.

When the benefits of ACP were clarified, it was not surprising that support was widespread.

First, ACP goes to rural broadband providers and private companies rather than the government itself. This public-private partnership allows many providers to participate, creating competition and maximizing consumer choice in the marketplace.

Families are taking advantage of the benefits. According to the Brookings Institution, ACP has generated more than $2,200 in economic benefits for low-income families participating in the program. ACP creates opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses in underserved areas and helps small businesses across the country connect with customers in their communities and beyond. In addition, students have access to online learning platforms, educational resources, and distance education programs that level the playing field and advance education for all Americans who want to learn.

Finally, benefit those who really need it. For example, U.S. veterans are often on the wrong side of the digital divide, with as many as 15% of veteran households lacking internet access as of 2019. But ACP is helping to change that narrative.

According to USAC, more than 800,000 of the 2.5 million eligible veterans have signed up for ACP.

In addition to its direct impact, ACP amplifies the impact of our investments in high-speed internet. In North Dakota, we are investing more than $301 million in federal resources to improve broadband infrastructure, provide devices to those who lack them, and promote technology adoption in the least connected rural communities. Over the past two decades, we were one of the first states to benefit from the federal government’s investment in broadband through rural broadband providers, and now so are nearly every other state. But these investments will not reach their full potential if ACP funding dries up and thousands of North Dakota households lose access to the internet.

In an increasingly connected world, Congress has an opportunity to ensure residents stay connected. Science and technology are developing at a rapid pace, and the United States cannot lag behind other countries. Our economy and the well-being of our citizens depend on it.

ACP is an important component of our nation’s continued economic growth, workforce development, and innovative spirit. Allowing ACP to end would be extremely harmful to families who rely on the program for critical online services and resources.

Congress should come together and show America that smart, pragmatic plans can still win overwhelming bipartisan support. Now is the time to fully fund the ACP, which should be one of the easiest votes for Senator Hoffen and Representative Armstrong this year.

State Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, has represented North Dakota House District 44 (Downtown and North Fargo) since 2013 and currently serves as House Minority Leader. Rep. Mike Brandenberg (R-Edgeley) served in the North Dakota House of Representatives from 1997 to 2002 and from 2005 to the present, representing District 28 (Logan, McIntosh, Lamoure, Dickey and Sargent County). He serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

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