Giving lower-income families a hand up will help America compete

People in need don’t want a handout; they want a hand-up that will enable them to improve their circumstances and lead more productive, successful lives. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) gives workers, students and families the hand-up they need to compete in the connected 21st century digital economy.

Enacted in 2021 as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the ACP gives eligible families a monthly discount of up to $30 to pay for broadband service, including upfront, a times grant of $100 that they can use to help purchase a computer, laptop or other electronic device that will allow them to connect to the internet.

ACP has clearly demonstrated its worth. In less than two years, more than 15 million households have enrolled in the program, which gives them online connectivity that would otherwise be hard for them to reach, and direct-to-consumer subsidies enable participants to choose the service that best suits their needs, which allows the provider to compete and the market to operate.

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Expanding this effective program, whose funding is set to expire in the next 18 months, should be a priority for the 118th Congress. Online connectivity is an absolute necessity for modern families. Without it, children can’t do their homework or attend online classes, wage earners can’t find jobs or work from home, and ultimately, the US will fail to keep pace with our global competitor if we don’t connect all Americans.

The idea of ​​giving people a way to lift themselves up and make a good living is one that conservatives have long supported. The late Rep. Jack Kemp, my dear friend, is a devout believer in attacking poverty at the root level through empowerment programs. He proposed creating specially targeted business and income tax breaks in designated high-poverty “enterprise zones” as an alternative to direct government handouts, giving people what he called a “ladder of opportunity” if where everyone can climb.

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ACP works in a similar way, offering lower-income families an invaluable high-tech tool that can help them find lifelong higher productivity and earning potential, strengthening their economic prospects and self-esteem. A 2021 study found that 43 percent of US families earning less than $30,000 have no home broadband service and 13 percent have no internet access, mobile or home, while less than 1 percent of adults with annual incomes above $100,000 reported a similar lack of online access.

This program has no rights. It means tested. It is a voucher that helps people, as Abraham Lincoln said, to improve their lot in life. It is, you might say, a lifeline that enhances opportunity.

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We must keep reminding ourselves that by helping people climb the ladder of success, ACP will strengthen our national security. We’ve seen China firsthand take dramatic state-driven steps to achieve with its Made in China 2025, designed to make China a global tech leader. The pressure is on and America will not fulfill its role as a leading global power without a fully connected population participating in the digital economy, driving innovation and elevating the US globally.

The benefits of extending the ACP outweigh the costs. The program produces an undeniable positive impact on the economy, which is experienced by 14 million households and climbing. When the government supports programs that empower Americans to lift themselves up, we all benefit.

Steve Forbes is chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media. Follow him on Twitter @gfinkelsteinveForbesCEO.


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