The Affordable Connectivity Program has made its mark on the United States, connecting more than 22 million eligible households to the internet. This critical resource has enabled Americans – especially those in rural, isolated areas – greater access to job opportunities, online learning, health care and more.

Roughly one in seven Americans depend on the ACP for internet connection. Congress cannot put off extending the funding of this program any longer. Without a confirmed path to extend the ACP, older, rural dwellers who have long been victim to the digital divide will suffer.

The ACP was established in late 2021 as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. About $14 billion dollars was allocated for the ACP, providing enrolled households with $30 per month to go toward internet service, $75 per month for those living on tribal lands. At the National Grange, we believe today’s global economy demands that every participant have access to reliable, high-speed Internet in order to remain competitive. The ACP has helped make this goal a reality for millions.

The ACP has been incredibly effective in very rural states like Maine, where almost all residents live in small, rural communities with limited resources. Maine is also home to the oldest general population in the entire United States; a significant portion of its population did not grow up with the kind of technology that is available and widely used today. In today’s increasingly tech-centered world, digital access and literacy are integral to ensuring Americans, especially rural residents, are not left further behind.

Maine’s older rural population is the second-largest in the U.S., comprising 62.7% of its population. Access to the internet, especially for those often isolated in rural regions, serves as a connector to family, friends and vital resources. These resources include access to medical professionals via telemedicine, a tool that has been increasingly in demand tool since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACP’s broadband-only subsidy helps break down the barriers to healthcare that thousands of older, rural Maine residents have faced for years. In fact, more than 95,000 Mainers have enrolled in the ACP, bridging Maine’s persistent gap in connectivity.

It’s widely understood that digital literacy is a must for America’s young people as they grow up in today’s modern world. When it comes to these same competencies, we cannot leave our older generations behind. According to the Maine Connectivity Authority’s 2023 broadband survey, “older adults feel less confident with all 12 digital skills” [using email, Zoom or social media], “with the most significant difference in using social media and job searching.” The ACP ensures greater ease and access to affordable internet. For older Americans in rural areas this has made all the difference.

ACP funding is expected to run out in the first quarter of this year. If the program is not extended, millions of people will be left behind. Policymakers owe it to those they serve, especially older, rural populations, to prioritize affordable internet access. For them, the internet serves as a gateway to the outside world – without it, everything is so far out of reach. All Americans deserve the opportunity to take advantage of resources that can benefit and better their lives for years to come.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.