US internet subsidy program faces uncertain future amid political standoff

The Democratic bill on spectrum auctions, which includes funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), faces opposition from Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz.

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The Verge reports that chances of renewing government internet subsidies are slim as Democrats and Republicans struggle to agree on funding. Both parties have proposed different bills to reauthorise the US Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auctions, but only the Democratic bill includes funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which recently ended.

The Senate Commerce Committee, led by Maria Cantwell (D-WA), postponed a meeting to discuss the bill due to opposition from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Although some Republicans backed previous attempts to extend the subsidy program, these efforts failed to pass in time to prevent its termination. Cantwell criticised Cruz for blocking the bill, stressing its importance for low-income Americans, including elderly and military families.

Cruz and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) proposed a competing bill that excludes ACP funding, focusing instead on expanding commercial access to mid-band spectrum for 5G. That version is favoured by some telecom industry players because it allows for exclusive licensing but is opposed by major tech companies supporting Cantwell’s bill. With the upcoming election, bipartisan cooperation on the issue seems increasingly unlikely.

Why does it matter?

Initially established in December 2020 and later expanded and renamed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the ACP enrolled over 23 million subscribers nationwide, covering rural, suburban, and urban areas—equivalent to one in six U.S. households. It provided essential support for broadband access, aiding households with up to $30 per month for internet service, up to $75 for those on Tribal lands, and a one-time discount on devices.