A far cry from bridges and roads.
Buried deep within the depths of the bloated 2,702-page infrastructure bill (Section 60502, to be exact) there’s a wonderful example of legislative sleight of hand. The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – a $3.2 billion dollar COVID relief initiative – magically became the Affordable Connectivity Program. All “emergency” language is out. A permanent entitlement program is in.
The Affordable Connectivity Program is a broadband-subsidy program for low-income households. Americans making less than $99,000 a year (that’s 200% above the federal poverty line) are eligible for a $30 benefit. This is in addition to a program that already exists to assist low-income Americans gain access to the internet.
Yes, a program already exists to address this exact issue.
“The Lifeline program, which boasts a budget of $2.385 billion, has been around since 1985,” says Dominic Pino from the National Review. “It provides a subsidy of up to $9.25 per month and is funded by contributions phone carriers make to the Universal Service Fund. In 2016, it was expanded to include broadband.”
So who really benefits from the Affordable Connectivity Program? Big Telecom, of course.
The aid is paid directly to internet service providers. More than 4 million Americans are already enrolled in the program and, with expanded eligibility, more will subscribe. AT&T and Comcast are growing their subscriber base at the expense of the taxpayer. And nothing in the law prevents them from raising rates for “discount” program participants.
Congress has appropriated zero funds for the Affordable Connectivity Program – taxpayers will assume the burden. And, it should be noted that telecom companies are some of the least deserving when it comes to handouts. Why? Well, Americans hate them. Comcast was one of the worst rated companies for customer service in 2020. AT&T, Spectrum, and DISH Network also made the top ten.
What else is hidden within the bowels of the infrastructure bill? What else are we paying for?