Extending the Affordable Connectivity Program is crucial, especially in rural Alaska

By Forrest Dunbar

Growing up in rural Alaska, I understood early the importance of communication technology to our communities. From community-run public radio to satellite internet, Alaskans have relied on a variety of means to connect with their neighbors and Outside. Today, broadband internet is an invaluable tool to provide opportunity and safety to our communities.  

This new dependence is not unique to Alaska. In response to our nation’s increased reliance on high-speed internet, the Biden administration has taken important steps to provide connectivity to those that need it, particularly in rural areas. The most important step is the creation of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which over 18 million American households are currently enrolled in. The ACP enables eligible Americans to afford broadband internet, providing a monthly voucher that can be used on the cost of an internet subscription. When combined with the low-income offerings made available by many of the nation’s leading providers that participate in the program, the voucher can effectively provide families with free broadband. 

But the ACP faces an existential threat that could eliminate internet access for the over 18 million American households that rely on the program — its funding will run out sometime in 2024. Extending its funding to ensure that the program continues to exist should be an urgent priority for lawmakers regardless of partisanship.  

A CNBC poll earlier this year found that a significant majority of Americans across party lines support ACP. This is no surprise: data from the Technology Policy Institute shows that ACP sign-ups from Republican-represented and Democratic-represented congressional districts are essentially the same. Even more, ACP is disproportionately impactful in in rural Alaska where median income levels are lower than they are in cities. 

Politics aside, an end to the ACP would set us back years in our effort to overcome the affordability gap, a barrier that accounts for two-thirds of our nation’s digital divide. A solution to this discrepancy in access would have far-reaching benefits. A 2021 study from Deloitte found that a ten percentage-point increase in broadband penetration in 2016 would have created more than 806,000 additional jobs in 2019.  


The persistence of the digital divide will continue to mean untapped prosperity for the American economy, and it’s not hard to understand why. Seemingly every industry stands to benefit by having access to high-speed internet and all of the essential resources that come with it. This means not only capabilities for remote working, but also access to information, so those working in sectors that are more hands-on and less computer-intensive can still utilize the internet to yield better results. An example of this could be a fisherman that relies on online resources for market prices, weather forecasts, fishing techniques, and maritime research, or a small business owner that utilizes online platforms to advertise their product and grow their brand.   

Overall, I am hopeful that federal policymakers understand that combatting affordability barriers are an integral part of getting Americans online. Furthermore, I hope there is tangible action to prolong the ACP. With the program set to expire next year, we need to find a funding solution soon that keeps this critical program intact.  

Forrest Dunbar is a Democratic state senator representing Alaska’s District J.