Internet Service Providers Commit to Affordable Broadband

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, May 20, 2022

Weekly Digest

Internet Service Providers Commit to Affordable Broadband

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Round-Up for the Week of May 16-20

Grace Tepper

On May 9, 2022, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced that they have secured commitments from 20 internet service providers to lower high-speed internet costs for US consumers. The providers are all participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a $14.2 billion federal program created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to subsidize broadband service for low-income households. Broadband providers who volunteer to participate will receive up to $30/month (or up to $75/month if the household is on Tribal Land) for providing service to low-income households and must allow consumers to apply their subsidy to any monthly plan offered. According to the Biden Administration's announcement, the 20 featured participating providers cover more than 80 percent of the US population. For all of their current or potential subscribers, these companies have now committed to offering plans with 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds for $30/month, making sure all Affordable Connectivity Program-participating households can have access to free, high-speed internet once the subsidy is applied.

The Biden Administration's announcement included further action items to help spread awareness of the Affordable Connectivity Program and increase the amount of subscriptions by eligible households. These include:

  • Launching is a website with details on how Americans can sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program and find participating internet providers in their area.
  • Reaching out to eligible households through federal agencies: Households qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program based on their income or through their participation in one of several other federal programs, like Pell Grants, Medicaid, or Supplemental Security Income. Agencies that manage these programs will be coordinating an effort to reach out to households that qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program through programs they help administer. For example, the Social Security Administration will email all 1.6 million Supplemental Security Income recipients who have a “My Social Security” account, letting them know that they are eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program.
  • Partnering with states and cities: The Biden Administration is partnering with states and cities to spread the word. For example, Michigan, Massachusetts, Philadelphia (PA), Mesa (AZ), and New York City (NY) will text millions of eligible households.
  • Collaborating with public interest organizations: Public interest organizations, including the United Way, Goodwill, Catholic Charities USA, and UnidosUS, will train their national networks to conduct direct enrollment and outreach. And Propel, a mission-driven financial technology company, will provide information via the Providers app to connect more than 5 million low-income families with the ACP program.

In this two-part series, we are looking at the price reductions or speed increases committed to by the twenty companies featured in the Biden Administration's announcement. In a previous series, we assessed Affordable Connectivity Program participation of the top cable, telephone, and wireless companies in the US and their plans that cost eligible program subscribers no more than $20/month (the upper limit of affordability for low-income households). We also looked at how easy it is for consumers to find information on the Affordable Connectivity Program on each provider's website. In this first article, we follow up on 11 companies from our prior research who are also listed in the Biden Administration's May 9 announcement and look at each one's new affordability commitments. The providers included here are arranged from largest number of broadband subscribers to smallest in the US.

Internet Service Provider Commitments

Previously, AT&T did not offer a high-speed DSL or fiber broadband plan that was less than $30 a month. AT&T's low-income program Access from AT&T offered 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 2 Mbps upload service for $5 to $10 per month for qualifying consumers. Now Access from AT&T is offering qualifying consumers up to 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload for $30/month. The company states that this speed is not guaranteed, but consumers will receive the maximum speed available in their area. The Access program does not apply to AT&T's wireless offerings, but the company does participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program with both wireline and wireless services. Customers do not have to participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program to qualify for Access from AT&T (if they meet the program's other requirements), but do automatically qualify for the Access program if they are Affordable Connectivity Program eligible.

Comcast's Internet Essentials program has been providing low-income consumers with high-speed internet since 2011. Comcast offers its Internet Essentials plan to qualifying low-income consumers at speeds of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload for $9.95/month. In March 2022, Comcast added a new tier, Internet Essentials Plus, where Affordable Connectivity Program participants or other qualifying low-income consumers can get 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload for $29.95/month. Anyone enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program is automatically eligible for this service tier, and existing Internet Essentials customers can switch to this tier at any time.

Charter's Spectrum Internet offers multiple plans for low-income households. The Internet Assist program offers 30 Mbps download and 4 Mbps upload for $19.99/month to eligible low-income consumers. However, the cable company now offers 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload service for $30/month to qualifying low-income consumers and/or Affordable Connectivity Program participants. Customers enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program can switch to this offering at any time with no contract, and cancel at any time.

Verizon previously did not offer any wireline service plans for less than $30/month. While the Biden Administration specifies that only Verizon Fios is included in the new announcement, the company's wireless service does also participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program. However, it is not offering plans for less that $30/month. With the new commitment by Fios, Verizon is now offering symmetrical 300 Mbps download and upload service for free through the Fios Forward initiative if subscribers are enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program. The company has offered Fios Forward since it was announced in mid-March 2022.

Cox Communications recently doubled the download speed of its ConnectAssist and Connect2Compete low-cost internet options. Starting March 31, 2022, the cable company raised each program's speeds to 100 Mbps download from a previous 50 Mbps. For both programs, the upload speed is 3 Mbps. ConnectAssist is $30/month and Connect2Compete is $9.95/month, the difference largely resting in the data limits of each; the first has unlimited data, and the second has 1.25 Terabytes. Eligible low-income consumers and customers enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program are eligible for these service tiers. In addition, Cox has a basic low-cost Starter Internet plan for $29.99/month, including speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Altice USA's Optimum and Suddenlink are also offering 100 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload speeds for free for customers enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program. The cable company's new ACP FREE offer can be applied to an existing account at any time for eligible consumers. Optimum's Advantage Internet program offers 5 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload speeds for $14.99/month and can also be used by Affordable Connectivity Program participants, despite having slower speeds than the company's new program-specific service tier.

Frontier did not have any plans at $30/month or less until it announced its Affordable Connectivity Program internet speed offer. Program participants can access symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps download and upload for $30/month, or free under the program. This speed upgrade replaces 50 Mbps symmetrical speeds as the lowest fiber speed available for Frontier's Affordable Connectivity Program subscribers. The telecommunications company announced this change on April 18, 2022.

Mediacom, in accordance with the Biden Administration's announcement, lowered the price of its 100 Mbps service tier to be free with the Affordable Connectivity Program $30 subsidy. The cable company's service previously started at $40/month; potentially increasing to $79.99/month after promotional periods. Now, under its Connect2Compete banner, Mediacom has made available 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload speeds for $19.99, reaching $29.99 after its 1-year promotional period. This is available to qualifying Affordable Connectivity program participants; for other low-income consumers, Mediacom's Connect2Compete offers 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds for $9.95/month.

Astound Broadband (comprised of RCN, Grande and Wave) is offering up to 150 Mbps service for free for consumers enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program. For specifically Affordable Connectivity Program subscribers, Astound is offering a minimum of 100 Mbps download and a maximum of 150 Mbps download with 15 Mbps upload speeds where available. Otherwise, the cable company currently offers 110 Mbps download and 15 Mbps upload service for $29.99/month. Additionally, Astound has a $9.95/month plan providing 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload for all qualifying low-income households through its Internet First program.

Breezeline is offering high-speed, affordable internet for Affordable Connectivity Program participants through its Internet Assist Plus plan. Low-income households eligible for the program can access 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload speeds for $29.99/month with Internet Assist Plus, which the cable company announced in April 2022. For low-income yet non-Affordable Connectivity Program subscribers, Breezeline's Internet Assist plan offers 15 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload for $9.99/month. Affordable Connectivity Program participants may always apply the benefit to a standard Breezeline program as well as Internet Assist Plus.

WideOpenWest (WOW!) is offering its 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload service tier for free for Affordable Connectivity Program participants. The cable company generally offers this service tier for $19.99/month, raising to $39.99/month after 1 year. New and existing customers alike can apply the ACP Internet 100 Plan to their service if they are qualifying low-income consumers. In addition, customers can apply the program credit to any other general plan.

How Easy is it for Low-Income Customers to Find Information about the Affordable Connectivity Program?

The Biden Administration included links to each participating provider's Affordable Connectivity Program page in its official announcement, so readers could go directly to each company's low-income broadband programs. The only one not included in the White House's press release was Mediacom's page. Otherwise, this made the information from the White House actionable for both current Affordable Connectivity Program consumers and potential ones.

Nine of the 11 internet service providers covered here have their Affordable Connectivity Program participation listed on their company home page with links to further information and the deals now being offered to program eligible consumers. Out of these, AT&T, Spectrum, Cox, Optimum, Mediacom, and Breezeline all feature the Affordable Connectivity Program prominently on their sites where it is unlikely to be missed. For each of these, consumers will find it relatively easy to access program information. Mediacom has most improved in offering direct information on its site; in our last series, the company was notable as one that made Affordable Connectivity Program information the least accessible. Three providers, Comcast, Astound, and WOW!, offer links to the Affordable Connectivity Program on their websites but do not prominently feature further program information compared to the others. However, their program pages are very informative and helpful for customers. Out of all nine that include program information, Cox in particular does well by also offering digital literacy resources through the Cox Digital Academy. Here, the company provides a wealth of information on improving digital skills, affordable internet, educational tools, digital citizenship, and guides to platforms like Microsoft Word or social media apps.

Two of the 11 providers, Verizon and Frontier, do not offer any information on or links to the Affordable Connectivity Program on their home pages. Verizon first lists the information at the bottom of its Fios page, the same as the company did when we last looked at the visibility of their program participation. Frontier's profile has also remained the same. The company offers a link to the Affordable Connectivity Program if a customer searches for it, but there is no mention of the program otherwise on its pages. Overall, this is better for eligible participants than a few months ago as they will likely access Affordable Connectivity Program information with ease.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

May 23—Broadband Technology Summit (Fierce)

May 23—Internet for All Webinar Series: Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Overview (NTIA)

May 23—The Diamond in the Rough: Chiseling 21st Century Learners in a Broadband-Enhanced World (Software & Information Industry Association)

May 24—Strengthening Our Communications Networks: Legislation to Connect and Protect (House Commerce Committee)

May 25—Applying for E-rate is Hard...Could it Get Harder? (SHLB Coalition)

May 25—Third Public Hearing on Broadband Consumer Labels (FCC)

May 26—NOFO Technical Assistance Webinar: Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program Application Process (NTIA)

Jun 08—Open Federal Communications Commission Meeting

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
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