Home Opinion State Rep. Francesca Hong: Fund the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) for our...

State Rep. Francesca Hong: Fund the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) for our communities

State Rep. Francesca Hong (Photo supplied.)

In an increasingly interconnected world, access to the internet has become an essential utility, enabling agency, education, job opportunities, healthcare services, and civic engagement. This is especially evident on the heels of Vice President Harris’ visit to Mount Pleasant last week to announce 200 jobs for Wisconsin and to highlight the Biden Administration’s dedication to broadband expansion.

As a small business owner, mom, and elected official I know how critical internet access is to families across Wisconsin, as it is for mine. However, millions of Americans, particularly those in marginalized communities, still struggle to get online, largely due to the inability to afford the cost of an internet subscription. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), created under the Biden administration, has been a vital step towards closing this gap, delivering connectivity to over 19 million American households to date, including over 372,758 households in Wisconsin. However, experts estimate the program will run out of funding by the second quarter of 2024, if not sooner, meaning that a funding solution to preserve the program must be established before then. We need to maintain this historic level of accessibility for our communities here in Madison and across our state.

The unfortunate but all-too-common reality is that the ACP’s expiration would disproportionately harm people of color, cutting millions off from critical resources that communities of color lack access to at a disproportionate rate. This is due to the prevalence of the affordability gap among Black and Latinx communities. One recent study found that the broadband affordability gap is concentrated in neighborhoods where 25% or more of the households lack home broadband. These communities, referred to as “America’s most unconnected communities,” hold 57% more Black households, and 49% more Latinx households than the national average.

The ACP has been a key tool to combat this trend, but it is also important to highlight that allowing the ACP to expire will not only worsen racial disparities and quality of life when it comes to connectivity, but also all of the critical services that come with it.

One example is the “Homework Gap,” which refers to the disparity between students with access to home broadband and digital devices and those without. These disparities don’t exclusively impact homework, but rather educational development as a whole, and they are shown to have a pronounced impact on students of color. Analysis found that children in 31% of Black and Latinx families and in 34% of Native American families did not have high-speed Internet access at home, compared to children in only 12% of Asian families and 21% of white families.

With the shift in recent years towards digital learning, connectivity at home has become a prerequisite for a quality education. I see it everyday with families across my district. However, countless students in underserved communities lack the necessary resources to succeed academically due to the digital divide. By preserving the ACP, the Biden Administration and Congress can ensure that students have the connectivity required for remote learning, thus narrowing the educational gap and fostering greater equity in the classroom.

The ACP also fosters greater opportunities for historically underserved communities in the workforce. Connectivity is vital for economic mobility and job opportunities. Many employers now require online applications, and numerous industries rely on digital literacy for employment. As a small business owner in the culinary industry, I know we need to remove as many barriers as possible to attract a truly diverse talent pool from our communities. By combatting the affordability gap, the ACP empower individuals in underserved communities to gain the necessary skills, access job listings, and pursue remote work. This not only increases economic opportunities for individuals but also stimulates local economies and reduces income inequality.

The Affordable Connectivity Program is an essential lifeline for tens of millions of Americans who would otherwise be left on the wrong side of the digital divide. Preserving the ACP is not just about ensuring internet access; it is about addressing the systemic inequities that have long disadvantaged communities of color. I urge the Biden Administration to once again lead on this issue like they have in the past, and work with Congress to find a common-sense solution that extends the program’s funding.