Republicans slam broadband discounts for poor people, threaten to kill program

Enlarge / Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) speaks to reporters after the weekly Senate Republican caucus lunch on November 14, 2023, in Washington, DC.

Getty Images | Anna Rose Layden

Republican members of Congress blasted a program that gives $30 monthly broadband discounts to people with low incomes, accusing the Federal Communications Commission of being “wasteful.” The lawmakers suggested in a letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel that they may try to block funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which is expected to run out of money in April 2024.

“As lawmakers with oversight responsibility over the ACP, we have raised concerns, shared by the FCC Inspector General, regarding the program’s effectiveness in connecting non-subscribers to the Internet,” the lawmakers wrote. “While you have repeatedly claimed that the ACP is necessary for connecting participating households to the Internet, it appears the vast majority of tax dollars have gone to households that already had broadband prior to the subsidy.”

The letter was sent Friday by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). Cruz is the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, and Thune is the top Republican on the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. McMorris Rodgers is chair of the House Commerce Committee, and Latta is chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

The letter questioned Rosenworcel’s testimony at a recent House hearing in which she warned that 25 million households could lose Internet access if Congress doesn’t renew the ACP discounts. The ACP was created by congressional legislation, but Republicans are wary of continuing it. The program began with $14.2 billion a little less than two years ago.

“At a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on November 30, 2023, you asserted—without evidence and contrary to the FCC’s own data—that ’25 million households’ would be ‘unplug[ged]…from the Internet’ if Congress does not provide new funding for the ACP,” the letter said. “This is not true. As Congress considers the future of taxpayer broadband subsidies, we ask you to correct the hearing record and make public accurate information about the ACP.”

“Reckless spending spree”

The letter criticizes what it calls “the Biden administration’s reckless spending spree” and questions whether the ACP is worth paying for:

It is incumbent on lawmakers to protect taxpayers and make funding decisions based on clear evidence. Unfortunately, your testimony pushes “facts” about the ACP that are deeply misleading and have the potential to exacerbate the fiscal crisis without producing meaningful benefits to the American consumer. We therefore ask you to supplement your testimony from November 30, 2023, with the correct information about the number of Americans that will “lose” broadband if the ACP does not receive additional funds, and correct the hearing record accordingly by January 5, 2024.

During the November 30 hearing, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said she will introduce legislation to re-fund the program. The ACP has widespread support from consumer advocates and the telecom industry. Additionally, the governors of 25 US states and Puerto Rico urged Congress to extend the ACP in a November 13 letter.

The Biden administration has requested $6 billion to fund the program through December 2024. Rosenworcel’s office declined to comment on the Republicans’ letter when contacted by Ars today.

Although the FCC operates the discount program, it has to do so within parameters set by Congress. The FCC’s ACP rulemaking noted that the income-eligibility guidelines were determined by Congress.

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