Millions to be disconnected as free internet plan ends

Robin Layton

Mar 7, 2024 — 4 min read

April will be the last full month families can receive the $30/mo. federal stipend that provides free internet service.

Young person doing homework at living room desk with laptop.

Over 20 million U.S. residents will lose their free or discounted access to the internet in April. 

The  Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced this week that it will be the last fully funded month for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). New enrollments were halted in February.

The ACP provides monthly subsidies of $30 (or up to $75 for Tribal lands) for qualifying households. Participating internet service providers (ISPs) then offer internet speed plans of at least 100 Mbps for under $30, making the connection free.

The plans are fast enough for a family of three to four to work or learn from home, stream shows and more.

The ACP makes telemedicine appointments, home deliveries and job searches possible for many Americans who may not have access otherwise. 

Rural residents often lack availability and affordability when accessing an internet plan, and, in fact, “3.2 million eligible rural households enrolled in the program,” shared Broadband Breakfast.

Can the ACP be saved?

Government representatives are fighting to get the program extended. “On Tuesday (March 5), Rep. Yvette Clarke (of NY) announced that more than 140 additional members of Congress had joined as co-sponsors of the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, legislation that would provide an additional $7 billion to continue a successful broadband-subsidy initiative,” reports

If unsuccessful, the FCC will continue to shut down the program, which began in December 2021 as the federal government’s solution to closing the digital divide in the U.S. The divide is the gap between those who have access to affordable internet and those who do not.

The ACP is one of many ways U.S. officials hope to have internet available to everyone by 2030, along with billions in federal funds slated to be dispersed to states and territories for internet expansion.

Build-outs for rural internet can be pricey for providers due to the large open areas and infrastructure difficulties caused by rough terrain. The high cost is passed onto the consumer, so even if a rural area offers internet, it may not be affordable to many households. About 20% of rural households lack internet access. 

Telemedicine is expected to take one of the biggest hits if the ACP ends. Used by rural residents more than other populations, telemedicine allows non-mobile or faraway patients access to care.

The U.S. relies on connectivity for nearly every aspect of life and the need is growing. “The average monthly consumption has more than doubled over the past five years, soaring from 270 GB in 2018 to 641 GB in the fourth quarter of 2023. This marks a 9.3% increase from the previous year’s average of 586.7 GB, and the U.S. average is now projected by OpenVault to reach or surpass 700 GB by the close of 2024,” reported Fierce Telecom.

Will you be notified when your ACP benefit ends?

Yes, according to the FCC, your internet provider will send three required written notices:

  • You should have received the first notice by Jan. 25, 2024.
  • The second will be within 14 days after the announcement by the FCC of the last fully funded month of the ACP.
  • The third will be simultaneous with the last bill/billing cycle in which the full ACP benefit is applied before the program ends.

The first notice households will receive in January 2024 informed households about the possible end of the program. The second and third notices must inform ACP households of the following:

  • That the ACP is ending.
  • The impact on your bill.
  • The date of the last bill you will receive that includes the ACP benefit.
  • Notification of your options: You change your service or opt-out of continuing service after the end of the ACP.

What can you do if you lose internet access?

The FCC’s rules say you must opt into continuing service with your ISP – they are not to automatically start providing you service and charging you more. Your first step should be contacting your provider to see what plans they offer and if you can afford one.

Several ISPs have cheap internet plans, so if you lose ACP funding, you may be able to switch to one of those. 

There are also low-income internet programs like Xfinity’s Internet Essentials, which offers up to 50 Mbps for $9.95/mo. or Cox Connect2Compete, which has up to 100 Mbps for $9.95/mo.

Some states have low-cost internet subsidy plans in place, so search for your state or city with “internet subsidy or discount” in the search bar. Federally, Lifeline provides an up to $9.25 monthly discount for eligible low-income subscribers and up to $34.25 for eligible homes on Tribal lands.

There are several nonprofit organizations like EveryoneOnMobileCitizen, Education Superhighway, PCs For People and Human-I-T that offer resources for free or reduced-cost internet.

If you are mobile, another option is to use public Wi-Fi at libraries, cafes, public parks or other establishments offering free internet.

Cheap mobile phone options

Some cellphone companies offer low-cost plans with internet data. T-Mobile’s Connect is just $10/mo. for 1 GB of data, 1,000 talk minutes and 1,000 texts. That amount of data will allow users to check emails and browse the internet in moderation. It’s a good temporary solution if you’ve lost internet access.

See Allconnect’s News and Research hubs for more broadband guides and information.

Robin Layton

Written by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

Robin Layton is an editor for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. She built her internet industry expertise writing and editing for four years on the site, as well as on Allconnect’s sister site … Read more