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Maine’s funding for affordable broadband is running out


Maine’s funding for affordable broadband is running out

Nov 15, 2023 | 2:55 pm ET
By Emma Davis
Maine’s funding for affordable broadband is running out
Network cables are plugged in a server room. (Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images)

More than 94,000 low-income households in Maine could lose access to their discounted broadband connection as early as April.

Funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal program that provides eligible households with a discount on broadband service and connected devices, is predicted to run out by the spring if all eligible households enroll, according to a model from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Currently, 41% of eligible households are enrolled nationwide. 

If no new households enroll, the fund is predicted to run out the following spring, in March 2025.

Gov. Janet Mills joined 25 other governors from across the country this week in signing a letter urging Congress to provide more funding for the program. 

“Closing our nation’s digital divide transcends politics,” the letter reads. “Whether you live in a rural area, a suburb, or a city, every American needs access to high-speed internet. Preserving the ACP will allow us to build upon the progress we’ve made in expanding connectivity rather than falling behind in a mission we cannot afford to lose.”

Ahead of the letter, elected officials from multiple states  also called on Congress to extend funding, as did the White House.

President Joe Biden’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided $14.2 billion in 2021 for the program, designed as a permanent extension of the Emergency Broadband Benefit. The funding was projected to sustain eligible households until 2029, however it has seen a higher participation rate compared with other federal telecommunications subsidies. 

Without further action from Congress, the fund is now expected to be drained by spring 2025 at the latest.

Across the country, more than 21.5 million households enrolled in the program, as of Oct. 30. In Maine, more than 94,000 households enrolled out of a total of more than 230,000 households eligible to receive a discount on their broadband bill each month.

Eligibility is determined by whether a household income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or if an individual is the recipient of a federal Pell Grant, federal housing assistance, or are part of a food distribution program on Indian Reservations, among other criteria

The program provides a subsidy of up to $30 per month for low-income families (and up to $75 per month for low-income families on Tribal Lands because of the higher cost of connectivity) to use toward an internet service plan offered by participating providers. Eligible households also receive a one-time grant of $100 to be used towards a desktop, laptop or tablet computer. 

The governors of North Carolina, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minneota, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico also signed the letter.