On July 19, NaLA along with The Pew Charitable Trusts, Buckeye Regional Council, Common Sense Media, and Next Century Cities hosted experts and community leaders for a Congressional Briefing focused on the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) at the Nelson Mullins office. The discussion highlighted the significant impact of the ACP and emphasized the need for its continuation and strengthening.
The event featured keynote remarks from Doug McCollough, CIO of Dublin, Ohio and Mike Lynch, Legislative & Regulatory Affairs Director at NATOA and a panel discussion moderated by Kathryn de Wit from The Pew Charitable Trusts with panelists: Kenya Asli from the City of Baltimore, Maryland; Ryan Collins from the Buckeye Hills Regional Council of Governments; Khotan Harmon from the City of Austin, Texas; and Drew Garner, State Broadband Policy Advisor from Common Sense Media.
During his keynote remarks, McCollough acknowledged that while the ACP may not be the permanent solution for broadband accessibility, it has been a catalyst for progress in digital equity. The program’s innovative nature has forced various stakeholders to work together, and to advocate for high-quality broadband access for everyone, especially underserved communities. He also recognized the pivotal role of service providers in ensuring the program’s success and acknowledged the importance of communities being empowered to voice their needs effectively.
Panelists shared insightful perspectives on some of those communities. For example, Garner emphasized that 98 percent of students use the internet for homework, highlighting the need for universal connectivity to ensure equal educational opportunities. Asli discussed how the ACP has allowed previously underserved communities to engage in the digital economy. She emphasized that as more government resources and services move online, we will need to ensure equitable and sustainable access to these resources for all citizens. Collins noted that access to the internet opens doors to telehealth and remote work, offering critical opportunities for economic growth in communities.
The panelists agreed that there is an urgent need for additional ACP funds. Garner stressed the importance of the device component in the ACP and emphasized the necessity of broadband subsidies to ensure universal affordable connectivity.
Collins emphasized the importance of fiscal responsibility in continuing ACP funding, as it serves as the foundation for community prosperity and access to the global culture. He explained that a loss of ACP funding would “pull the rug out from under all that opportunity,” that has been built in rural areas. Communities “need access to the global culture so these communities don’t feel isolated. People can survive without the internet, but they can’t truly thrive. Thus, without it, it will take them back. It will suck the air out of the community”.
The panelists’ unanimous call for continued funding underscores the impact of the ACP in ensuring that millions of Americans can thrive in the digital age. NaLA believes that closing the digital divide means making broadband affordable for all Americans so that they can stay connected each and every month. We advocate for the continuation of this program to ensure individuals and families are not left without affordable and consistent access to essential online services.