By Jake Mayson, Director of Public Policy, Greater Spokane Inc.
In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, access to economic opportunities and the global marketplace is becoming increasingly dependent upon a high-speed internet connection. The federally funded Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has proven invaluable in enabling low-income Americans to gain access to this critical resource, connecting over 20 million American households to date, including more than 300,000 here in Washington. Yet, because of its success less than two years after its launch, the ACP could run out of funds. That means if Congress does not act to extend the program, millions of families could be disconnected and all the progress we’ve made could be lost.
At its core, the Affordable Connectivity Program recognizes that the digital divide is not just about the availability of technology; it’s about access to opportunities that technology can unlock. Whether it’s a small business in a rural town or an aspiring entrepreneur in our community, the program’s commitment to affordable connectivity empowers them to participate in the digital economy on an equal footing. In doing so, it fosters entrepreneurship, innovation, and competitiveness, and gives life to a robust regional economy.
The program fuels growth by dismantling geographic barriers. Rural enterprises, previously hindered by limited access to high-speed internet, can now gain access to relevant information for their industry, tap into previously inaccessible markets, and connect with suppliers, customers, and partners from around the world.
The ACP is particularly beneficial for rural areas like those found across the Greater Spokane area and Eastern Washington – some 36% of rural households have annual incomes at or below 200% of the Federal poverty level (an eligibility criteria for the ACP) in contrast to the 28% figure for households in non-rural areas. In addition to that, its existence will play a critical role in assisting rural broadband expansion by lowering the subsidy needed to incentivize internet providers to build infrastructure in unserved, rural areas.
It’s essential that our leaders in Washington D.C. recognize the necessity of bridging the digital divide and extending the ACP. This objective isn’t just about connecting people to the internet; it’s about connecting people to opportunity. From fostering business growth and innovation to promoting social mobility, the program is a much-needed tool for prosperity in the digital age. In an era where connectivity is the cornerstone of progress, preserving this program isn’t just prudent—it’s an imperative that will define our shared future. Business leaders, policymakers, and citizens are rallying behind the cause of expanded affordable connectivity and building a stronger, more resilient, and more interconnected economy.