White House says 20 internet companies will provide millions of Americans with virtually free internet

White House says 20 internet companies will provide millions of Americans with virtually free internet

The Biden administration announced Monday that 20 top internet service providers have agreed to offer basic low-cost plans that will be free for millions of Americans after a refund.

The 20 companies, including AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA) and Verizon (VZ), cover more than 80% of the US population. They will immediately provide at least one plan that costs no more than $30 per month and offers download speeds of at least 100Mbps.

The White House says 40% of the US population, about 48 million households, will be eligible to subscribe through an existing program called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Aimed at low-income Americans, the program offers participants a discount of up to $30/month on their Internet bill, which means they get virtually a free service if they can go online with one of these participating companies.

AT&T CEO John Stankey said his company’s new plan “combined with the benefits of federal AKP offers up to 100 Mbps of free internet service.”

“Internet for All requires the partnership of business and government, and we look forward to working with government, Congress and the FCC to ensure everyone has accessible, affordable and sustainable broadband service,” he said.

“High-speed Internet at home is no longer a luxury”

Monday’s news comes largely thanks to $65 billion earmarked for high-speed internet in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. This money has helped fund the ACP and is also being used for parallel efforts to increase coverage areas and speeds.

“High-speed internet at home is no longer a luxury: it’s a necessity for children to learn, workers to get their jobs done, seniors and others to access health care via telemedicine, and for us all to stay connected in this digital world,” said a senior administration official to reporters previewing the announcement.

“A Historic Opportunity”

Families are eligible for ACP primarily based on income level. Any household earning less than 200% of the federal poverty line — $55,500 for a family of four in the continental US — is eligible. Households can also qualify if they participate in certain state programs, such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income.

“The Affordable Connectivity Program is a historic opportunity to close the digital divide by enabling more Americans to get online and connect to our increasingly digital world,” said David N. Watson, CEO and president of Comcast .

The full list of participating companies includes Allo Communications, AltaFiber, Altice USA, Astound, AT&T, Breezeline, Comcast, Comporium, Frontier, IdeaTek, Cox Communications, Jackson Energy Authority, MediaCom, MLGC, Spectrum, Verizon, Vermont Telephone Company, Vexus Fiber , and wow! Internet, cable and television.

Verizon, for example, will now offer its existing Fios service to program participants for $30/month. Other companies, like Spectrum, say they will boost speeds on an existing $30-month plan to meet the 100Mbps standard set by the White House when their infrastructure allows.

Push more companies to ‘make the same commitments

Monday’s announcement notably misses many smaller and rural ISPs that would have a challenge meeting the White House’s price or speed requirements.

“I think there are currently around 1,300 participating ISPs in the ACP and we would of course appreciate it if each and every one of them made the same commitments as these 20 companies,” said a senior administration official.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 14: US Vice President Kamala Harris delivers a remark on the Biden administration's Affordable Connectivity Program in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on February 14, 2022 in Washington, DC.  During the event, Harris announced that 10 million homes have signed up for the program, which gives families access to affordable, high-speed internet.  (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about the Affordable Connectivity Program in February. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

These companies cover 50% of the rural population. These Americans are still eligible to sign up for the ACP, but they may still face slower speeds or plans that aren’t fully covered by the $30 refund.

To date, 11.5 million households have signed up to receive ACP benefits. The program was initially created as a relief effort in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, and Biden officials have scrambled to make it permanent to narrow the digital divide.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will address Monday at the White House alongside CEOs of Internet companies as the first part of a multifaceted effort to encourage signups. These efforts include a new website, GetInternet.gov, and direct outreach to federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration, as well as states.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, DC.

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