Giving lower-income families a hand up will help America compete
People in need don’t want a handout; they want a hand-up that will enable them to improve their circumstances and lead more productive, successful lives. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is giving workers, students and families the hand-up they need to compete in the connected 21st century digital economy.
Created in 2021 as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the ACP gives eligible families a monthly discount of up to $30 to pay for broadband service, along with an initial, one-time grant of $100 they can use to help purchase a computer, laptop or other electronic devices that will enable them to connect to the internet.
The ACP has amply demonstrated its value. In less than two years, more than 15 million households have enrolled in the program, providing them with an online connection they otherwise would struggle to afford, and the direct-to-consumer subsidy lets participants choose the service that best fits their needs, allowing providers to compete and markets to work.
Extending this effective program, whose funding is set to expire in the next 18 months, should be a priority for the 118th Congress. Online connectivity is an absolute necessity for modern families. Without it, kids can’t do their homework or attend online classes, wage earners can’t look for jobs or work from home, and ultimately, the U.S. will fail to keep up with our global competitors if we fail to connect all Americans.
The idea of providing people with the means to lift themselves up and make a good living is one that conservatives long have supported. The late Rep. Jack Kemp, my dear friend, was a devout believer in attacking poverty at the root level with empowering programs. He proposed creating specially targeted business and income tax breaks in designated high-poverty “enterprise zones” as an alternative to direct government handouts, giving people what he called a “ladder of opportunity” upon which everyone could climb.
The ACP works in a similar fashion, offering lower-income families an invaluable high-tech tool that can help them find a lifetime of higher productivity and earning potential, boosting their economic prospects and self-esteem. A 2021 study found that 43 percent of U.S. families earning less than $30,000 had no home broadband service and 13 percent had no internet access at all, mobile or home, while less than 1 percent of adults with annual incomes above $100,000 reported a similar lack of online access.
This program is no entitlement. It is means tested. It is a voucher that helps people, as Abraham Lincoln put it, to improve their lot in life. It is, you might say, an opportunity-enhancing lifeline.
We should keep reminding ourselves that by helping people climb the ladder of success, the ACP can strengthen our national security. We have seen firsthand China take dramatic state-driven steps to achieve with its Made in China 2025, designed to make China the global tech leader. The pressure is on and America will not hold its role as a top global power without a fully connected population that is participating in the digital economy, spurring innovation and elevating the U.S. globally.
The benefits of extending the ACP far outweigh the costs. The program yields an undeniably positive economic impact, experienced by 14 million households and climbing. When the government supports programs that empower Americans to lift themselves up, we all benefit.
Steve Forbes is chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media. Follow him on Twitter @SteveForbesCEO.
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