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A federal discount internet program has ended. Here’s how it affects Louisvillians.

Parkway Place resident Marschelle Edwards at the complex's IT center.
Divya Karthikeyan
Parkway Place resident Marchelle Edwards at the complex's IT center.

More than 86,000 Louisvillians got discounts on their internet bills through the federally funded Affordable Connectivity Program. The “wildly popular” program ended last month. 

Last year, the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) took over internet service at Parkway Place, an affordable housing complex in west Louisville’s Algonquin neighborhood.

Nischia Granger lives there. She has chronic diabetes, and she relied on the internet to make doctors’ appointments and manage her insulin.

Her internet was free under a two-year contract between Spectrum and Louisville Metro Housing Authority. When that expired last year, the ACP filled the gap.

While her internet wasn’t free anymore, Granger still got a $30 monthly discount through the ACP. It lowered her household expenses.

“It was really kind of like, $40-$50. It was supposed to have been cheaper than that. But with all the fees and stuff, it was $40-$50,” she said.

Then, starting in January, she and other residents received notices from their service providers that the ACP was winding down. Congress did not extend funding for the ACP in time, and last month was the last one funded.

Parkway Place resident Nischia Granger.
Divya Karthikeyan
Parkway Place resident Nischia Granger.

Granger is unemployed and said she won’t be able to afford her internet plan without a discount. So, now she manages medical appointments from her neighbors’ porch, on their WiFi.

“It's kind of embarrassing, but it is what it is, you know,” she said. “I gotta do it for my health.”

Federal funding helping local residents

In 2021, Congress passed the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which created the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program.

Under the program, a household with an income below 200% of theFederal Poverty Guideline was eligible for a $30 monthly credit on their broadband internet bill on a plan of at least 100 megabits per second.

It also provided a one-time discount of up to $100 to buy a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from service providers.

Households in which a member uses SNAP, Medicaid, WIC, or has a student eligible for free or reduced-price meals were also eligible for internet discounts under the ACP. If an eligible household has a past due balance or prior debt, providers could still enroll them. The ACP also prohibited providers from forcing people into high cost or lower quality plans and sending surprise bills.

Marchelle Edwards, a Parkway Place resident, said it was a great benefit for a lot of families. But now, families have to end their internet plans and return equipment.

“Another problem? How do parents, if they don't have transportation, get the equipment there? They are being billed for it, and this bill is over their head,” she said.

The way forward after ACP’s end

The program was touted as a solution to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural communities. It helped states with high levels of poverty and historically marginalized communities get reliable, high speed internet.

Louisville Metro's Digital Inclusion Manager, Ricky Santiago, said the city can’t match what the ACP provided.

“When it comes to the Affordable Connectivity Program, our hands are essentially tied,” he said.

Santiago said the program was wildly popular, and came in at a “really incredible time right after the pandemic.”

He hopes that philanthropic organizations and private entities can step in to help.

In an email response, a Spectrum spokesperson said the company will offset the internet credit loss by offering ACP customers a free Spectrum Unlimited Mobile line for one year with no additional taxes or fees. ACP customers would also receive a $15 credit in their May monthly statements, half of the credit they got through the federal program.

With the end of the program, Edwards, from Parkway Place, is worried for kids and parents who rely on the internet for schoolwork, entertainment and employment.

Edwards said she is in the process of reaching out to Spectrum and AT&T to come to the complex and promote low-cost internet plans to residents.

“We need to have WiFi just like St. Matthews, Bardstown Road. Don't look at us as underprivileged, we are people and human too, look at us just like they are,” she said.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect Ricky Santiago's title as Digital Inclusion Manager for Louisville Metro.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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