How to Get Help With Internet Bills in 2022

The new federal Affordable Connectivity Program offers a $30-a-month discount for eligible households

Person using a laptop at night with lots of paperwork on the desk surrounding them. Photo: The Good Brigade/Getty Images

If you’ve been struggling to afford decent access to broadband, help is available through a federal program called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). It provides discounts on internet service and equipment for many low-income households.

At a press event this week in the Rose Garden, President Joe Biden announced that 20 internet companies have now signed up to provide low-cost internet as part of the program. “High-speed internet is not a luxury any longer,” he said at the event. “It’s a necessity.”

The ACP replaces the Emergency Broadband Benefit program (EBB), a temporary measure that was launched last May and ended in March. More people will be eligible for assistance through the new program, but the benefits are somewhat lower.

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Enrollment in the ACP began Dec. 31, and more than 11.5 million households have already signed up, according to the White House. The program is being funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed at the end of 2021.

“If it wasn’t glaringly important before, the pandemic confirmed the vital need for reliable, affordable broadband for all Americans,” says Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for CR. “The Affordable Connectivity Program is a long-term, bipartisan solution to help ensure that more Americans, especially the most vulnerable, can get and keep access to high-speed internet.” 

What the Affordable Connectivity Program Provides

The ACP helps eligible households by providing a discount of up to $30 per month on internet service, or $75 per month for those living on tribal lands. In addition, it offers a one-time discount of up to $100 toward the purchase of a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from a participating provider. Families have to pitch in between $10 and $50 toward the purchase price. Subsidies are paid directly to the internet provider, then applied to consumers’ monthly bills. Each household is limited to a discount for one device.

Consumers can use the benefit with any tier of broadband service offered by their internet service provider. Unlike the EBB discounts, the ACP can be applied to bundled services—such as plans that combine internet and TV—but only toward the internet portion of the bill.

“In the past, $30 a month meant you had to settle for a slow Internet service, unless you wanted to pay a heck of a lot more out of pocket,” Biden said at the press event. “But over the last few months, my administration has worked closely with internet providers—this is a case where big business stepped up—urging them to cut their prices and raise their speeds.” In most cases, recipients will receive internet service speeds of 100 megabits per second or faster, the president said.

The ACP doesn’t cover smartphone purchases or cellular service. But the Federal Communications Commission has another program, called Lifeline, that provides low-income households with a discount of $9.25 per month for phone or internet service. You can apply for both Lifeline and the ACP, and apply the benefits to the same or separate services.

The Affordable Connectivity Program will continue until its funding runs out. Congress set aside $14.2 billion for the initiative, and the FCC says that almost $1.3 billion in remaining EBB funds is being rolled into the new program.

Who Is Eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program?

Many households who were fully enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit by the end of 2021 don’t have to do anything more to get benefits under the ACP.

But there are exceptions. You will have to requalify if your EBB eligibility was due to a substantial loss of income as a result of a job loss or furlough. If so, you should have already been contacted by your internet provider or the Universal Services Administrative Company, which administers the ACP. You’ll also need to apply if you were receiving an EBB discount because you qualified for an internet provider’s own COVID-19 program.

If you currently receive a Lifeline benefit, you automatically qualify for the ACP.

Although the monthly discount under the ACP is less than what you might have received from the EBB, there are some advantages to the new program. One is that more families can qualify for the ACP because the income limits are now higher. Under the ACP, households with incomes of up to 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines are eligible; EBB income eligibility was set at 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. The White House says that those with a household income of about $55,000 per year for a family of four, or $27,000 for an individual, are eligible.

Also, anyone participating in the Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is now eligible for the ACP.

You’re also eligible for the ACP if a member of your household meets at least one of these criteria.

• They’re eligible for a participating broadband provider’s existing low-income internet program.

• They participate in certain assistance programs, such as Lifeline, SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Lifeline.

• They participate in tribal-specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF, or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

• They’re eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision.

• They received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year.

According to the White House, almost 40 percent of the households in America qualify for the internet discount.

How to Apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program

As noted above, if you were already enrolled in EBB, you might not have to do anything.

If you already receive a Lifeline discount, you should contact your internet provider directly to enroll in the ACP. If you don’t participate in Lifeline but already are enrolled in a provider’s own low-income program unrelated to the EBB, you may be all set. You won’t have to apply for the ACP benefit if the ISP has received approval for its application process from the FCC. You should talk to your provider to confirm.

Another option is to apply at the ACP website. You can do it online or print out an application and mail it, plus a household worksheet and supporting documentation, to the ACP Support Center, P.O. Box 7081, London, KY 40742.

The White House has set up a website, Get Internet, with details on how Americans can sign up for ACP and find participating internet providers in their area. You can also call 877-384-2575 for both English- and Spanish-language instructions.

Once accepted, you’ll need to contact your internet provider, choose a plan, and have the discount applied to your bill. (Some providers may have an additional application that they will ask you to complete.) You have to apply for the program and select an internet service plan from a participating provider.

The 20 internet companies that have agreed to lower their rates for eligible consumers provide service in areas where 80 percent of the U.S. population live, including 50 percent of the rural population, according the president’s remarks.

The participating providers are Allo Communications, AltaFiber (and Hawaiian Telecom), Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink), Astound, AT&T, Breezeline, Comcast, Comporium, Frontier, IdeaTek, Cox Communications, Jackson Energy Authority, MediaCom, MLGC, Spectrum (Charter Communications), Starry, Verizon (FiOS only), Vermont Telephone Co., Vexus Fiber and Wow! Internet, Cable, and TV.

General information about the ACP is also available at the FCC’s ACP Consumer FAQ. More information on how to apply can be found on the ACP application information website.

New Consumer Protections

To address complaints it received during the EBB program about some internet providers either making it difficult for consumers to participate in the program or requiring them to switch to high-priced plans, the Federal Communications Commission has implemented several consumer protections for the new program.

The rules ban inappropriate upselling, such as requiring a consumer to purchase or switch to a pricier plan to get the ACP discount. (Consumers can voluntarily choose a pricier, faster plan, though.) Service providers can’t require subscribers to purchase a pricier bundle plan or sign up for additional services to get the ACP benefit. They also aren’t allowed to pressure consumers into buying or renting a modem or router from the company or getting an extended service contract.

Inappropriate downselling practices are also banned. These could include forcing consumers to change to a lower-speed plan or only showing them lower-quality plans, such as those with slow speeds or a low data cap. Internet providers also can’t limit ACP benefits to new or existing subscribers, and they can’t tell consumers they’ll lose their discount if they switch providers.

To handle ACP-related complaints, the FCC is setting up a dedicated complaint line within its Consumer Complaint Center. Internet providers are required to prominently display the FCC contact center phone number, plus the Consumer Complaint Center’s web address, on the subscriber’s bill and on the provider’s ACP web page.

James K. Willcox

I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.