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Kansas Citians' internet bills increase after federal program begins to 'wind down'

Posted at 3:56 PM, Apr 18, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A program 23 million Americans have used over the last few years is set to “wind down,” according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The Affordable Connectivity Program, or ACP, helps low-income families and individuals pay for access to the internet.

“I don’t get a lot, so that would hurt,” ACP participant Russell Woods said.

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Woods is on a fairly fixed income and has relied on the credits from the FCC to pay for his internet bill.

The FCC said on its frequently asked questions page, the program is set to end because funding is running out. Without action from Congress, April will be the last fully-funded month of the program.

More than 500,000 people on both sides of the state line have benefitted from this program.

The White House said the state of Kansas has received $71,184,253 benefitting 133,746 households. Over the life of the program Missouri received $217,858,016, which helped 395,504 households.

“Hoping and praying that things get right,” Woods said while speaking to me in his living room.

Woods signed up for the Affordable Connectivity Program two years ago. He hasn’t had to pay for an internet bill since.

His first payment is due next month.

“To find out that I may lose that, well that’s a big difference,” Woods said. “I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to shift that money here or pay for that here.”

Russell uses his Wi-Fi to connect with resources, entertainment and his family.

“Me and my mom talk on the phone quite frequently,” he said. “It really helps me. It puts me at peace because I call my family members every day to check on everybody. Make sure everybody is good.”

Digital Equity Program Office of Greater Kansas City Director Tom Esselman said thousands of people in Kansas City will seek a different source of connection come summer.

“The highest demand is going to be libraries,” Esselman said. “Libraries are institutions that are trusted and thought of most.”

Esselman said digital divide advocates fought for the continuation of the program, but are now switching gears.

“We’re trying to be proactive with working with the other resources the government is willing to provide,” he said.

Woods said he hopes Congress can keep their connection to constituents.

“We need you to sit down at the table, listen to what the people want because that’s who you work for,” he said. “Not for yourself or your own self gain. You work for the people, do something. Our voices are yelling out, help.”

Affordable Connectivity Program participants will receive a reduced credit for the month of May, but the program is set to end completely in June.

Both the Senate and House are considering bills that would extend the Affordable Connectivity Program, but neither bill is scheduled for a vote. Members of the House launched a discharge petition, which is a procedure to essentially force a vote on the proposal.

U.S. Representatives Sharice Davids (D) and Emanuel Cleaver (D) both support extending the program. Republican U.S. Senators Roger Marshall of Kansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri also publicly support funding for the program.