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A federal pandemic-era program that helped millions of households pay less for internet service is expected to go away in the coming weeks, but some service providers are offering their own discounted programs.

From December 2021, more than 23 million households nationwide enrolled in broadband internet service through the federal $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, qualifying lower-income participants have received up to $30 per month, or up to $75 on Tribal lands, to pay for broadband connection.

As the “largest internet affordability program in U.S. history,” it helped close the digital divide for “vulnerable seniors, veterans, school-aged children, and residents of rural and Tribal communities,” according to the Federal Communications Commission. An FCC survey, released February, found 68% of households had inconsistent or zero connectivity before the program, with 80% citing cost as the reason.

Hal Woods, chief of policy for the education nonprofit Kids First Chicago, said more than 350,000 households in Cook County enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program, which supports essential services like education and telehealth.

“ACP’s end threatens educational progress, job security and health care access for low-income families in Chicago and beyond,” Woods said.

Full funding for the program will end after Tuesday and subsequent partial funding will last only through May, the FCC said, unless Congress injects more funding. The White House has requested $6 billion from Congress to continue the program, and advocates are pushing to extend the ACP.

But continuing the program seems unlikely as it needs bipartisan support from Congress.

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