Friday, February 5, 2022
Does your telephone company participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program?
You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.
Round-Up for the Week of February 21-25, 2022
As 2021 turned into 2022, the Federal Communications Commission transformed the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program into the Affordable Connectivity Program. Congress created the Affordable Connectivity Program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and provided the FCC $14.2 billion to subsidize broadband service for low-income households. Broadband providers will receive up to $30/month (or up to $75/month if the household is on Tribal Land) for providing service to low-income households. But since participation in the new program is voluntary, will broadband providers show up to offer service? This is the second in a series of articles looking at which providers are opting into the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Big Telephone Companies Opt In
According to the Leichtman Research Group, just 16 broadband companies provide service to about 96 percent of all subscribers in the U.S. Wireline telephone companies trail cable operators in subscribers, but still many areas of the country. The largest telephone companies, AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Frontier, Windstream/Kinetic, TDS Telecom, Cincinnati Bell, and Consolidated Communications, are all participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Broadband providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program must allow low-income consumers to apply the program subsidy to any of their service plans, as mandated by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. In our first article, we looked at which cable companies are offering plans that would end up costing Affordable Connectivity Program consumers no more than about $20/month (the upper limit of affordability for low-income households). Here we looked at the offerings of the largest telephone companies in the United States.
AT&T boasts double the number of broadband subscribers as Verizon. The company is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, offering a variety of different service options all priced at $55/month, with speeds based on location and availability. AT&T has four basic tiers of digital subscriber line (DSL) broadband at this price; the company provides 25/5 Mbps, 50/10 Mbps, 100/20 Mbps, and 300/20 Mbps service based on location and availability. AT&T’s Fiber Internet 300 service option offers symmetrical 300/300 Mbps speeds for consumers in its fiber network. For customers with access to the fiber network, prices vary. An estimate for the Miami (FL) area prices this service at $55/month. Consumers can enter their information on AT&T’s website or call a company representative for pricing information in their area. AT&T has a low-income broadband program, Access from AT&T, which offers consumers 10/2 Mbps service for $5 to $10 a month. It has a variety of other DSL options below 25/3 Mbps speeds as well. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through AT&T. The company is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in 21 states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Verizon offers two fiber-network plans for less than $50/month. Verizon customers can access 200 Mbps to 300 Mbps symmetrical service for $39.99/month through its Fios fiber network based on availability, according to its website. The company also offers DSL services under 25/3 Mbps for a variety of prices where available. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through Verizon. Verizon is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, DC.
CenturyLink offers DSL and fiber services for $50/month. CenturyLink’s DSL services are all priced at $50/month, but speeds depend on location and availability. To find the company’s offerings in your area, consumers must provide their address information online or call a representative. Centurylink’s DSL speeds reach 100/10 Mbps where available. The company’s lowest fiber tier offers service at 100/100 Mbps speeds for $50/month to consumers with access to its fiber network. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through CenturyLink. CenturyLink is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in 36 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Caroline, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Frontier is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, offering three tiers of service for around $50/month or less. Although prices aren’t available on Frontier’s website, C|Net reports that Frontier’s Premium DSL plan offers up to 115/3 Mbps service for $55/month based on availability. The company’s FiberOptic 50 plan offers 50/50 Mbps speeds for $40/month for the first 12 months for customers in its fiber network. The FiberOptic 500 plan offers 500/500 Mbps service for $45/month for the first 12 months. According to C|Net, monthly rates generally raise by around $10 after the first year, but some customers may see no increase at all. Prices also vary by location, so customers should call a representative for more specific information on services in their area. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through Frontier. Frontier is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Windstream/Kinetic offers fiber-based internet at speeds up to 400/400 Mbps for $50-60/month based on location and availability. Windstream also offers DSL options at speeds under 25/3 Mbps for a variety of prices. Customers must call a company representative or provide their information online to see what options are available to them. Consumers can purchase a low-cost device through Windstream. Windstream participates in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas.
TDS Telecom offers four plans for around $50/month or less. TDS’s Mach Internet plan provides 25/5 Mbps DSL service for $52/month. The company’s Warp Internet Plan offers up to 50/10 Mbps DSL service for $29.95/month for the first 12 months, jumping to $67.95/month after. The WarpX Internet plan offers up to 100/15 Mbps DSL service for $39.95/month for the first 12 months, which goes to $67.95/month after the promotional period. TDS also offers other DSL broadband plans for less than 25/3 Mbps service. TDS’s Extreme 300 Fiber Internet plan offers 300/300 Mbps service for $39.95/month for the first 24 months, rising to $72.95 after. According to TDS phone representatives, promotional offers can be renewed regularly for customers to maintain these rates. Customers should call TDS or enter their information online for information specific to their location. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through TDS. TDS participates in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Cincinnati Bell is participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, offering two fiber plans that are $50/month or less. Cincinnati Bell’s Fioptics 250 Internet plan offers customers 250/100 Mbps service for $44.99/month for the first 12 months, rising to $74.99 after. The company’s Fioptics 500 Mbps Internet plan offers 500/125 Mbps service for $49.99/month for the first 12 months and rises to $84.99 after. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through Cincinnati Bell. Cincinnati Bell participates in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.
Consolidated offers three plans that are $50/month or less. Consolidated’s Faster Internet plan offers 25/5 Mbps DSL service for $41.99/month. The Blazing Internet plan offers 50/2 Mbps DSL service for $50.95/month. DSL prices may vary by $10 depending on location; customers can call Consolidated or enter their information online for more specific information on service options in their area. The company’s Fidium Fiber service offers 50/50 Mbps speeds for $35/month for the first 12 months, rising to $55/month after 12 months. Consumers cannot purchase a low-cost device through Consolidated. Consolidated participates in the Affordable Connectivity Program in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.
How Easy is it for Low-Income Customers to Find Information about the Affordable Connectivity Program?
All of the major telephone companies are participating in both the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Lifeline Program for low-income consumers, the federal subsidy program for phone and broadband service administered through the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) and overseen by the Federal Communications Commission. While almost all of the telephone companies listed here have a dedicated page for the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Lifeline Program on their websites, customers will find that information with varying levels of ease. Depending on the company, it isn’t always so easy to find out about their participation in these programs.
AT&T and CenturyLink both include information on the Affordable Connectivity Program directly on their homepages and make their program participation easy to find. AT&T and CenturyLink in particular feature the Affordable Connectivity Program prominently on their homepages where site visitors can’t miss it. These two companies include a wealth of information on the program: who qualifies, how to sign up, and other important information for consumers. They also include links to the FCC or USAC websites for further information.
Verizon, Frontier, Windstream/Kinetic, and TDS made information on the Affordable Connectivity Program difficult to find. Verizon has a dedicated page for the Affordable Connectivity Program, but it is not listed anywhere until the bottom of its Fios internet plans webpage. Verizon’s page, once reached, is comprehensive and even includes some state subsidy information such as for Maryland’s separate Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Frontier and Windstream make it virtually impossible for customers to find information on the Affordable Connectivity Program unless they search for it directly on a search engine, like Google. Both pages, when found, are comprehensive and provide plenty of information on the program. Frontier’s page also includes prices for some of its popular plans once the ACP subsidy benefit is included. As for TDS, the company has a pretty sparse page on the Affordable Connectivity Program that can only be found through an “About TDS” link at the bottom of the company’s home page.
Neither Cincinnati Bell nor Consolidated has information on the Affordable Connectivity Program anywhere on their websites. When using a search engine, Cincinnati Bell shows an Emergency Broadband Benefit link that redirects to the company’s home page. A search for Consolidated shows no information. For the Lifeline Program, Consolidated provides limited information, but only if a customer gives their zip code.
When comparing telephone companies to cable providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, cable companies come out on top. Cable companies overall are being more transparent about their participation. Six out of nine major cable companies featured the Affordable Connectivity Program prominently on their home websites compared to two out of the eight telephone companies. Cable companies also offer both faster speeds and cheaper plans compared to telephone companies’ DSL offerings. While fiber offers faster speeds than cable, it is still more expensive than cable options. No telephone company offers a plan that is $30 or less, which would be free with the Affordable Connectivity Program subsidy, and most options are $50 or higher, pushing the upper limit of affordability for low-income consumers. Where available, Affordable Connectivity Program subsidy recipients may have an easier time considering cable broadband options for service.
Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
ICYMI from Benton
Feb 28—State of the Net Conference 2022 (Internet Education Foundation)
Mar 1—Holding Big Tech Accountable: Legislation to Protect Online Users (House Commerce Committee)
Mar 3—Executive Session/Nominations (Senate Commerce Committee)
Mar 9—The Power of Advocacy: How Nonprofits Are Shaping Broadband Policy In California (Michelson 20MM Foundation)
Mar 11—Public Hearing on Broadband Consumer Labels (FCC)
Mar 14—Black Churches Leading Digital Equity Conversations (Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council)
Mar 16—March 2022 Open FCC Meeting
Mar 16—Building for Digital Equity—Demystifying Broadband Policy and Funding (Institute for Local Self-Reliance)
Mar 29—Bipartisan Tech 2022 (Next Century Cities)