Keep America’s veterans connected, fund the ACP
Special to Stars and Stripes October 30, 2023
The Affordable Connectivity Program has more than proven its worth in numerous communities across the United States, benefiting Americans of all ages from students to seniors. Over 21 million low-income American households, including hundreds of thousands of veterans, have now enrolled in the program, and are reaping the benefits of affordable internet connectivity, but for how long? Congress needs to act quickly to ensure the ACP is continued as its current funding is running out, leaving millions of Americans at risk.
Born out of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the ACP is a broadband subsidy that supports low-income households by providing up to $30 per month toward a broadband plan (up to $75 per month for tribal lands) and $100 (one-time) for the purchase of a device. Without question, internet access is about more than just being online. Nation’s Finest, a great organization that has helped veterans achieve self-sufficiency and reach their full potential, said it well: “[T]he accessibility of affordable internet has been more than a convenience; it has been a lifeline.”
As a veteran, I am more than familiar with the challenges that many in our community face, specifically in terms of access to specialized health care, job training, and other resources. The ACP has directly benefited veterans in need – bringing them connectivity that allows essential resources to come directly to them wherever they are. To date, more than half a million families enrolled in the ACP qualify as veterans, but all of these veterans and their families could be left unconnected in the near future as funding is expected to run out by early 2024.
Rural America will be hit disproportionately hard. Data from the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Rural Health shows that over 60% of the veterans that live in rural America are enrolled in the VA health care system. Of that group, 54% are 65 years and older and 60% are affected by a service-related condition. Access to primary, instant and mental health care is critical. But distance or lack of resources in medical deserts create hurdles to veterans getting the care they need.
Telemedicine is a solution with more than 2.2 million veterans already using telehealth services. However, access to telemedicine requires access to reliable, affordable broadband — access that the ACP enables.
Veterans and other vulnerable families will only continue to reap the benefits of this program if funding is extended and ultimately made permanent. Advocates for veterans’ support services like the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce are warning that without the ACP, “the implications would be severe and far-reaching.”
Serving one’s country is one of the most honorable roles one can pursue in life, and the lack of support many veterans face on many fronts following their time in the service is deeply unfortunate. Since its inception, the ACP has made strides in bridging some of these inequities, and it’s up to Congress to ensure bridges like the ACP stay intact.
Now in the final months of 2023, policymakers can no longer shy away from facing the truth — the ACP works, and it won’t be around this time next year if Congress doesn’t act. If Congress lets the funding lapse, low-income veterans and their families and many others will once again find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, without reliable and affordable connectivity to essential services. While veterans are used to facing numerous challenges, internet affordability should not be one of them. Let’s have their backs. We as a country can do better, and we must.
Tom Magness, a retired Army colonel, formerly served as a commander in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.