Press Release

Welch Hosts Event on Protecting Internet Access with ACP Subscribers

May 15, 2024

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. — With federal funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) expiring, Senator Peter Welch, D-Vt., a member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, and Chair of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, met with users of the ACP on Friday in White River Junction.

Part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the ACP helps lower- and middle- income households access broadband by providing up to $30 per month in a subsidy for qualifying households.

“Access to high-speed internet is as important as access to electricity,” said Welch. He pointed to the investments the federal government is making to ensure broadband is available in rural communities, adding “if you don’t have the money to connect, it doesn’t do you any good.”

Customers of ECFiber, a communications union district made-up of 31 towns in the White River Valley, described how the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) has made broadband a possibility for them.

Rebecca Courtemanche described ECFiber as “a godsend.” The $30 monthly subsidy provided by the ACP and an additional $20 provided by ECFiber enabled her family, including three school-aged children, to afford better broadband.

Rebecca’s daughter is taking advantage of Vermont’s dual enrollment program to combine her last two years of high school with her first two years of college. She’ll graduate this spring with both an associate degree and a high school diploma. Her biggest concern when enrolling in college wasn’t the coursework, it was internet access. “I was really worried at first because our internet was always crashing,” her daughter Kaelyn said.

Rebecca added that prior to signing up for ACP and ECFiber the best internet service the family could afford was unreliable and would drop easily.

Abner Schlabach, 80, of Barnard, said, “The arrival of ACP was such a godsend for us.”

Barnard was one of the first communities to sign up for ECFiber, Schlabach said, describing how it made a difference for the entire community, particularly during COVID.

“I’m on a fairly tight budget,” said Schlabach. He found it easy to sign up for ACP. “It’s a great program,” he added. 

Having access to high quality internet service has meant fewer trips to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for Schlabach, who said he can now do visits with his doctors virtually through telehealth appointments.

Kate Lamphere, Chief Clinical Services Officer at Health Care and Rehabilitation Services in Springfield said the agency now provides 20% of its mental health services through telehealth, including in crisis situations. “Access to the internet is critical to reducing health care disparities,” she said.

Funding for ACP will expire entirely in June. This month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which operates the program was forced to limit the monthly benefit from $30 to $14.

ECFiber has filled that gap for its 160 customers who receive ACP. F. X. Flinn, chair of the ECFiber board, said other communications union districts in Vermont are also covering the gap for their customers.

ECFiber estimates the number of customers enrolled in ACP should be closer to 500-600. Getting the word out about the program can be a challenge. “Internet service providers, especially small ones like ECFiber, can’t afford to staff up and do outreach,” Flinn said.

Nationally, ACP serves over 23 million households. In Vermont, nearly 26,000 families – 1 out of 11 households – are signed up for the program.

Earlier this year, Welch introduced the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, which would have provided $7 billion to fund the program through the end of 2024. Since then negotiations with Republican senators has led to a bipartisan bill that tightened up some of the eligibility requirements and brought the cost of funding the program through the end of the year down to $6 billion, according to Welch.

Welch said he is hopeful the revised funding bill will pass. “I really am optimistic about this,” he said.

Rebecca Courtemanche, left, a user of the Affordable Connectivity Program, tells U.S. Senator Peter Welch, right, how the program has made a difference for her family and three school-aged during a discussion of the program at Hartford Town Hall on Friday, May 10. Photo courtesy of Senator Welch.
U.S. Senator Peter Welch, left, listens as F. X. Flinn, chair of the ECFiber board describes how the Affordable Connectivity Program has benefited ECFiber customers during a discussion of the program at Hartford Town Hall on Friday, May 10.
Photo Courtesy of Senator Welch.
Rebecca Courtemanche, left, a user of the Affordable Connectivity Program, and U.S. Senator Peter Welch, right, listen during a discussion of the program at Hartford Town Hall on Friday, May 10. Photo courtesy of Senator Welch.