The U.S. Federal government has instituted programs to help low-income families access free or affordable telephone and internet services. One such initiative is the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). It is accessible to United States residents who can prove that they meet the stringent eligibility criteria.
The problem is that many people who could benefit from the ACP have no information about it. So, what is the Affordable Connectivity Program? How does it work? How does one qualify to apply for it? This article discusses the ACP to help you successfully apply for it.
- The Affordable Connectivity Program Explained
- How Does Affordable Connectivity Program Work
- How to Qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program
- How to Prove Eligibility for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
- How to Sign Up for the Affordable Connectivity Program
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- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The Affordable Connectivity Program Explained
Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is the Federal government’s initiative to provide free or inexpensive internet to low-income families. It is established and operated by the Federal Bureau of Communications (FCC), which is the government body that regulates communication services.
The FCC launched the ACP on December 31 2021, in place of the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), which provided affordable internet to people who had experienced a substantial loss of income due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, the ACP retained some of the provisions of the EBB and expanded eligibility to a broader portion of the U.S. population.
There’s an agency called Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) which administers the ACP. The USAC runs the National Verifier, where individuals can check if they meet the eligibility criteria and apply for the benefits.
Through the ACP, low-income families enjoy affordable internet in the following two ways:
- Discounted Services: The ACP offers a $30 ($75 on Tribal Lands) monthly subsidy that helps low-income families enjoy discounted telephone and internet services. There are more than 1,300 participating internet service providers (ISP). The FCC pays the subsidy directly to the ISP to cover part of the internet costs, making it possible to provide discounted internet services.
- Free Services: Sometimes, the ACP subsidy can cover an individual’s internet bill. Say one is on an internet plan that requires them to pay less than $30 monthly. With the ACP discount, they will cover their bill without needing to make a top-up. For those on the Tribal Lands, the monthly internet bill would have to be at most $75.
How Does Affordable Connectivity Program Work
The Affordable Connectivity Program benefits low-income families needing free or discounted internet. It is perhaps the best way to get telephone or internet services without paying exorbitant charges. However, each household (not each person) can get only one ACP benefit at a time. The following are the benefits of enrolling for the ACP:
- The FCC provides an internet subsidy of up to $30 ($75 on Tribal Lands) per month. The subsidy pays for both wireless and broadband internet services. It lasts for one year, after which you must prove eligibility to continue enjoying it.
- There’s also a one-time $100 discount for purchasing an internet-ready device (tablet, laptop, desktop, computer) through participating providers. However, there is a co-payment between $10 and $50, depending on the provider.
How long will Affordable Connectivity Program last? The ACP is a perpetual program that should last for as long as there’s federal funding for it. An individual gets the ACP subsidy for one year after which they must recertify their eligibility. As long as you remain eligible, you can keep applying for the program.
How to Qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program
Before you can enjoy the ACP benefits, you must qualify for them. According to the FCC, you must meet any eligibility criteria to be part of the program. Eligibility for an Affordable Connectivity Program is either based on an individual’s income or participation in a federal benefit program. The following are some of how you can qualify for the ACP:
1. Income-Based Eligibility
One of the main ways to get the ACP discount is for your income to be up to 200% of the current year’s Federal Poverty Guidelines. In the EBB regime, the income eligibility was at most 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Therefore, the ACP allows more families to qualify than the EBB did. Here is a breakdown of the ACP income thresholds based on the poverty guidelines for 2022:
|No. of persons in a family or household||2022 Federal poverty guideline||ACP income thresholds for 48 states and Washington DC||ACP Income thresholds for Hawaii||ACP Income thresholds for Alaska|
|Each additional household member||$5,900||$9,440||$10,860||$11,800|
The poverty guidelines in 48 states and Washington, DC, are similar, resulting in uniform ACP income thresholds. The income threshold for single-member families residing in these states is up to $28,180. A two-member family would require $36,620. For every additional family member, the households would need an extra $9,440 to qualify for the ACP.
The story differs in Hawaii and Alaska, where the applicable poverty guidelines differ. In Hawaii, a two-member family should have an income of up to $42,120, while a three-member family needs $52,980 to get the ACP. That means that every additional member leads to a $10,860 increase in the income thresholds.
In Alaska, a three-member family needs an income of up to $57,580. A four-member household in the same state needs an income of up to $69,380, meaning that every additional family member leads to an $11,800 rise in the ACP income threshold.
Comparing the different income thresholds head-to-head, a single-member household needs an income up to $27,180, $31260, and $33,980 in 48 states and Washington DC, Hawaii, and Alaska, respectively. Therefore, it is easier to qualify for the ACP discount if you reside in Hawaii and Alaska than in the rest of the United States.
2. Participation in Federal Assistance
Another way to get your foot into the Affordable Connectivity Program is to participate in at least one Federal assistance program. These assistance programs may apply to the entire household or only one member. The following are some of the ACP-eligible assistance programs:
- Lifeline Assistance: Lifeline Assistance is a program by the FCC that helps low-income families get free or discounted telephone or internet services. Eligible families get a $9.25 ($34.25 for Tribal Lands) subsidy, which participating providers apply to the monthly phone and internet bill. Plus, families can get free telephones to help them communicate with family and friends. Participation in Lifeline Assistance gives you an automatic entry into the ACP.
- Medicaid: Medicaid is an assistance program that provides free medical care for people in low-income families. Participating individuals pay $0 for their medical bills. By providing documentation for Medicaid, one can prove eligibility for the Affordable Connectivity Program.
- SNAP: SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a Federal program that supplies low-income families with funds for free food. It works via an Electronic Benefits Transfer Card, which eligible individuals can use like a debit card to purchase food from participating stores. With SNAP documentation, one can prove eligibility for the ACP.
- SSI: SSI or Supplemental Security Income is a program targeting disabled adults and children with monthly payments. Individuals qualify for SSI based on having an income below the given thresholds. Therefore, participating in SSI also makes you eligible for the ACP.
- Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit: Veterans Pension is paid by the Federal government to wartime veterans meeting particular disability or age requirements. On the other hand, the Survivor’s Benefit is paid to deserving children and spouses of veterans who died in wartime. Benefitting from these two Federal programs makes you eligible for the ACP.
- FPHA: FPHA, or Federal Public Housing Assistance, consists of several programs that provide rent subsidies to low-income families. Participating in FPHA proves that you are in the low-income category and makes you eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program.
- National School Lunch Program (NSLP): Children from low-income families who attend public schools pay to benefit from the NSLP. The programs in this category and wide include school breakfast and lunch programs by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in community schools. Families only need documents proving participation in the NSLP to be eligible for the ACP.
- Federal Pell Grant: Undergraduate students from low-income households may get the Federal Pell Grant to help them through university. Individuals who get the grant must demonstrate clear financial need. Thus, getting the Pell Grant also makes you eligible for the ACP.
- WIC: Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program mainly targets women, infants, and children. A family can qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program by providing WIC documentation.
3. Participation in Tribal Assistance
Besides the generalized federal assistance programs, individuals and households can qualify for the ACP by participating in Tribal Assistance programs. Of course, Tribal Lands residents get a $75 subsidy if they allow for the ACP. The following are some of the eligible Tribal assistance programs:
- Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance: The Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance program offers assistance to American Indians or natives of Alaska. Eligible families receive funds for utilities, food, shelter, and clothing. Other types of aid in this category include child assistance, burial assistance, and emergency assistance. Those benefitting from any of these assistance types are eligible for the ACP.
- Food Distribution Program on Indian Lands (FDPIR): The USDA provide free food to low-income families on Tribal Lands or Indian reservations. Participation in the FDPIR shows that a family is needy and makes it possible to participate in the ACP. All that’s needed are documents proving that a family benefit from the FDPIR.
- Tribal Head Start: Tribal Head Start is a program that targets children living in Tribal Lands to help them through their educational journey. Eligible children get meals, round-trip transportation, and structured learning. Families whose children participate in Tribal Head Start can qualify for the ACP if they apply.
- Tribal TANF: Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is a program that provides needy families on Indian reserves with funds to promote their welfare, work, and responsibility. Participation in Tribal TANF can help you meet eligibility for the ACP.
How to Prove Eligibility for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)
Did you know you must prove eligibility to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program? Proof of eligibility involves providing documents to show a household’s annual income or participation in a Federal or Tribal Assistance program. The following are some of the documents you must provide to participate in the ACP:
1. Documents to Prove Identity
When applying for the ACP, you must identify by providing at least one USAC-recognized document. Whatever document you provide must contain your name, social security number (SSN), and date of birth.
As such, you would need a passport, birth certificate, driver’s license, certificate of citizenship or naturalization, or a federal, state, military, or Tribal ID. The identity document should be for the individual applying for the ACP.
2. Documents to Prove Income Eligibility
To show that you qualify for the ACP, courtesy of your annual household income, you must provide documents proving the same. Each family member with an income should provide documents proving how much they earn annually. If the annual income is under 200% of the current Federal Poverty guidelines, you’ll benefit from the ACP.
You may prove your annual household income by providing tax returns for the previous year; statement of benefit for Social Security, Veterans Administration, Worker’s Compensation, or pension; paycheck stub; divorce decree or child support award. Alternatively, you could provide any document proving how much you make in your household annually.
3. Documents Proving Participation in Government Assistance
One way to qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program is to prove that you participate in a government assistance program. The only way you can do that is by providing official program documents. Eligible documents must have your name in full, the name of the program, and an expiry date of less than 12 months.
To apply for the ACP, you may provide documents such as an approval letter, verification letter, award letter, statement of benefits, or school documentation. The document depends on the program that enables you to qualify for the ACP.
4. Additional Documents
Besides the documents listed above, you may also have to prove your address. It should be a document containing the same address you filled in the application form. Any discrepancy would render the address null and void. Thus, you may provide a utility bill, program participation documents etc.
Besides, emancipated minors must provide a certificate of emancipation or court documents. With that, they will prove their new legal status. Otherwise, only individuals above 18 years can apply for the ACP since they can get all the other documents listed above.
How to Sign Up for the Affordable Connectivity Program
You may or may not need to sign up for the ACP. If you’re a Lifeline Assistance beneficiary, you must contact your current ISP directly to enrol for the ACP. Once registered, you can apply the Lifeline and ACP subsidies on one or separate internet services.
That also applies to those participating in broadband service programs from non-Lifeline providers for low-income individuals and households. Ask your current ISP for procedures for enrolling into the ACP. Like a Lifeline beneficiary, you may register into the ACP directly.
Otherwise, you may apply for Affordable Connectivity Program through any of the following ways:
1. ACP Online Application
You may apply for the ACP online via the National Verifier or Lifeline Websites. The National Verifier also helps you verify whether or not you qualify for the ACP. Online application is faster and hassle-free. You may also get approved immediately.
2. ACP Application Via Mail
If you can’t apply online, you can download and print the application form, fill it out, and send it to USAC via snail mail. Besides the application form, you also must print out the Household Worksheet and include it in the application. That way, you’ll get the correct subsidy amount to cover everyone in the household.
Once you have filled out the application form and the Household worksheet, you should attach identity and eligibility documents and send them to the following address: ACP Support Center, P.O. Box 7081,London, KY 40742
3. ACP Application Via the ISP
The ACP provides free or subsidised internet through hundreds of ISPs. If you have a preferred ISP, you may apply for the ACP directly through them. The USAC has an ACP Provider Locator Online Tool to identify an ISP available in their locality. Here are some of the ISPs that participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program:
- Allo Communications: Allo Communications provides 100 Mbps free internet to ACP-eligible low-income families. Alternatively, families may apply the $30 monthly subsidy on other internet plans. Tribal land residents get $75 support. You may apply for the ACP directly via the Allo Communications website.
- AT&T: AT&T also offers 100Mbps free internet using the $30 ($75 on Tribal Lands) monthly subsidies. You may apply via the AT&T website after ascertaining your eligibility through the National Verifier website.
- Comcast: Comcast Xfinity Internet Essentials is not entirely free. You’ll pay only $9.95 monthly on Internet Essentials for high-speed internet. Once enrolled for Internet Essentials, you can apply for and get the ACP discount.
- Cox Communications: Cox Communications offers a 100Mbps internet plan for those qualifying for the Affordable Connectivity Program. The plan provides unlimited data for 12 months or until you surpass 1.25TB of data. There’s also a Connect2Compete program that offers low-cost internet to households with the internet. You may apply for the ACP via the Cox Communications website.
- Verizon: ACP-eligible families can qualify for Verizon Home Internet using the $30 ($75 on Tribal Lands) subsidies. The subsidies work together with the Verizon Forward Program, which provides free internet. Once you verify eligibility for the ACP program, you can fill out the application form on the Verizon website.
Every low-income family needing free or affordable internet should apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program. Through it, the Federal government provides a $30 (or $75 on Tribal lands) subsidy for internet services. Thus, eligible households get either free or discounted internet from any of the participating ISPs.
You may qualify for the ACP due to having a low annual income or participating in an assistance program. Regardless of how you are eligible, you must provide documents proving that you do. You will apply online via the National Verifier, Lifeline, the ISP’s website, or via snail mail.
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