How to apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program — CNET7 min read
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of having a reliable internet connection at home. It’s essential for working from home, for keeping up with schoolwork during remote learning and for keeping us entertained when we can’t gather socially. But home internet service isn’t exactly cheap — in many cases, people can struggle to get connected at all.
Last year brought a bit of relief in the form of a new, temporary subsidy program called the Emergency Broadband Benefit, established to help low-income families and those who had lost income during COVID-19. Now, in 2022, the EBB is being shuttered and replaced with the Affordable Connectivity Program, one of a number of broadband-focused initiatives in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last November.
Like the EBB, the new program aims to help households afford the internet connections so desperately needed to keep pace with our rapidly changing world. Those who qualify will be able to receive a discount of $30 a month off their internet bill. That amount goes up to $75 a month for households on Tribal lands.
Just as many internet service providers elected to participate in the EBB, scores of internet service providers have committed to being involved with the ACP. They include AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier, Google Fiber, Optimum, Sparklight, Spectrum, Starry Internet, Suddenlink, T-Mobile, Verizon, Xfinity and hundreds more. You can reference the Federal Communication Commission’s state-by-state list to determine what’s available in your area. For now, let’s walk through what else you need to know in order to take advantage of the ACP.
First off, find out if you qualify
Not everyone is eligible for the ACP. It is specifically geared to help low-income households afford broadband connections for school, work, health care, utilities and other services. Thus, at least one member of the home must meet the criteria for the household to participate.
First, if you or anyone in the household participates in the federal Lifeline program, you’ll also be eligible to participate in the ACP. This is particularly notable because, through the Lifeline program, you can receive a discount of just over $9 a month on your internet service (and just over $34 a month for those on Tribal lands). So, any funds from the ACP will be an additional discount to what you receive via Lifeline. It also helps you skip a step, which I’ll describe shortly.
If you’re not taking advantage of Lifeline, there are other programs that will qualify you for the Affordable Connectivity Program. If you or anyone in your household currently participates in particular government assistance plans — including Federal Public Housing Assistance, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income and Women, Infants, and Children special supplemental nutrition program — you will also be eligible to opt in to the ACP.
You can also qualify for the ACP based on your income. Regardless of your participation in any of the above programs, your household will be eligible if your income is less than or equal to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. What does that mean, exactly? Here’s how it breaks down:
ACP qualification: Total income
|No. of people in household||Poverty guideline|
For each additional person after eight, you can add $9,080 to the final amount listed. Also, it should be noted that the numbers are slightly higher for Alaska and Hawaii. You can find those specific US Department of Health and Human Services numbers on the charts on its site. Be aware, though, you’ll need to take the numbers in the charts on that page and multiply them by two to get the needed “200% of the federal poverty guidelines.”
Finally, other criteria of eligibility include:
- Participation in Tribal specific programs, including Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal TANF and Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.
- Received a federal Pell Grant during the current award year.
- Approval for free or reduced-price school lunch program or school breakfast program for the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, or 2021-2022 school year.
- Meeting the eligibility requirements of a participating ISP’s existing low-income program.
If any of the above is met, in addition to the monthly discount mentioned above, you may also be eligible for a one-time discount of up to $100 for a desktop computer, tablet or laptop.
Second, some eligible households may be able to ‘skip the line’
Remember how I talked about skipping a step when I mentioned the Lifeline program? If you’re already a part of Lifeline, you can contact your ISP directly to enroll in the ACP. You’re not required to use the Apply Now button on the ACP site.
Similarly, if you are currently enrolled in your ISP’s low-income program, but are not participating in Lifeline, you may also be able to avoid having to use the ACP site. There’s one caveat though. You’ll need to follow up with your ISP and make sure it’s gotten approval from the FCC for this step.
Third, have your paperwork ready
If you’re unable to skip that step, be prepared to pull together several documents. (Note: If you plan to mail the application, do not send your original documents, only copies.) Among the paperwork you’ll need is proof of income, including either a tax return, pay stub or Social Security statement of benefits, or proof of program participation, which can include approval letters, benefit verification letter or statement of benefits.
For an exhaustive list of the acceptable documents, you can refer to the ACP site’s Show You Qualify page.
Now, it’s time to apply
You have three different ways to apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program. The first is to apply online. You can log in and create a new account at the ACP’s online application portal.
Your second option is to apply by mail. To do this, you will need to print out an application, complete it and send along your copies of the required documents to: ACP Support Center, PO Box 7081, London, KY 40742.
Finally, your other option is to contact your ISP directly and ask if it participates in the ACP. If it does, it should be able to assist you and walk you through whatever steps are needed to complete the process.
If you choose to apply online, it’s possible you may receive immediate approval. If that’s not the case, there may be a request of additional documentation in order for you to move forward with the ACP discount. But once you’re approved you can move on the final step.
Finally, follow up with your internet provider
The ACP is not a check that you receive but rather a discount that gets applied to your internet bill. As such, you’ll need to notify your ISP of your ACP participation so it will apply the discount to your monthly charge. This is also an opportunity to see if you can upgrade your internet plan tier and potentially get more speed for less money.
Anything else to keep in mind?
Your household cannot get the ACP discount from more than one ISP, nor can you get multiple discounts within the same home. To do so would disqualify you from receiving any further assistance or benefits through the ACP.
Also, it’s your responsibility to notify your ISP or the ACP if you no longer qualify for the benefit. So, if you’re no longer participating in a qualifying assistance program or your income exceeds the poverty thresholds, then you need to take action within 30 days of the change.
If you have any additional questions on the Affordable Connectivity Program, you can call the ACP Support Center at 877-384-2575.
Affordable Connectivity Program FAQs
Is the Affordable Connectivity Program the same as the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
It is similar, but they are two different programs. The EBB was a temporary benefit created to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. It ended on Dec. 31, 2021. The ACP is a long-term program aimed at helping low-income households stay connected for work, school, healthcare and more.
The EBB provided $75 a month for qualifying families on Tribal lands. That does not change with the ACP. However, for all others, the EBB provided $50 a month as a maximum monthly benefit whereas the top monthly amount for the ACP is $30 a month.
How long will the Affordable Connectivity Program last?
The ACP is a long-term program. The government has committed $14 billion to this endeavor and there is currently no end date.
Will the Affordable Connectivity Program send funds to help me pay for my broadband costs?
No, you will not get a check in the mail. The ACP is essentially a discount on your home internet service. Your service provider will receive the funds from the government and you will, in turn, see a reduced price on your bill.