Home » Connection interrupted: Federal internet discount begins to expire

Connection interrupted: Federal internet discount begins to expire

by NBC News

Dan Drljaca lives in a Wisconsin town with no stoplights and one high-speed internet provider that charges $65 a month for broadband service.

That’s too steep for Drljaca, 65, who lives on limited disability income. He had only been able to afford it thanks to a federal government program that discounted his internet service. That subsidy is coming to an end this month.

“It made the difference between affordable and ‘dream on,’” he told NBC News in a phone interview. 

Drljaca represents one of the 23 million households across the country that the Biden administration says will have to pay more out of pocket for internet access as federal funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program runs out. Backed by $14.2 billion in the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the program discounted high-speed internet service for qualifying households by up to $30 per month ($75 for tribal households), with a one-time $100 discount on a device like a laptop or tablet. The goal was to close the digital divide made clear during the Covid-19 shutdowns.

On Wednesday, that federal government program begins to wind down despite strong bipartisan support and little in the way of serious opposition. Drljaca will go back to his roughly 10-minute walk to use the free WIFI at the Wabeno public library to join his telehealth appointments, access any news and renew his state disability benefits. He has a smartphone, but gets by on just 1 gigabyte of data a month.

There will be “a huge difference from going on the internet every day, to not at all again,” he said.

A 2023 survey done by USTelcom, a telecommunications trade organization, found the average cost of internet access has dropped by around 55% since 2015, even as download speeds have jumped by more than 140%. Despite that, quality broadband access and affordability remain an issue for an estimated 42 million Americans, according to researchers at BroadbandNow, a company that tracks internet access.

For years, the federal…

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