June 21, 2024

Opinion | Don’t let internet connectivity funds dry up | Guest Columns

As a state legislator and county supervisor, I know firsthand that Dane County has consistently led the Badger State, and the country as a whole, in pioneering education for all.

The University of Wisconsin is a nationally recognized research institution (and NCAA powerhouse), to say nothing of the multitude of quality community colleges and private colleges that educate our young people to build a brighter future for our communities and our state.

We must not leave anyone behind. Students and their families who lack high-speed internet at home because they cannot afford it face serious challenges in achieving their dreams. We saw this “homework gap” clearly during the pandemic as students who could not afford broadband fell behind their connected peers. Since then, the internet has only grown more critical to everyday life.

Fortunately, a game-changing federal program, the Affordable Connectivity Program (or ACP) has made huge strides in closing the homework gap. However, success could also be its downfall as 22.5 million American households have enrolled. Just a few years into its implementation, the ACP is dangerously low on funding and is at risk of drying up in the coming months. Just this week, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced that the commission was taking steps to “wind down” ACP.

By offering a $30 per month discount toward broadband access for low-income families, in addition to a one-time $100 discount toward qualifying devices like laptops and tablets, the ACP makes it both simple and easy for families to achieve more reliable internet access.

Wisconsin is leading the way in adopting the ACP and realizing the benefits it provides to families who need it most, with more than 345,000 Wisconsinites having signed up just a few years into the creation of this program. As a result, thousands of families are able to pursue their economic and entrepreneurial dreams by growing their small businesses in communities across our area.

Simultaneously, students in elementary, middle and high school and in institutions of higher learning can continue their studies outside the classroom without the worry that they’ll fall behind their peers simply because of their financial situation. While the ACP is clearly making significant progress in granting Wisconsinites broadband access, we are currently facing a reality where its funding is declining and will expire soon.

It has been an honor to have helped lead the work of the Dane County Broadband Task Force as its chair. But we cannot continue this fight alone, and that means we need to continue the good work the ACP has already made possible.

Congress and the Biden Administration must fight to extend funding for the ACP. We are making progress, connecting more businesses and families to the internet, and strengthening our communities. Let’s work together to find a way to continue to fund the ACP, which is making a positive difference for our communities.

State Rep. Melissa Ratcliff, D-Cottage Grove, represents the 46th Assembly District.

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