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Biden administration points finger at Republicans for internet bill hikes

By Brian Fung, CNN

(CNN) — Tens of millions of Americans could see skyrocketing internet bills this spring or may be abruptly kicked off their plans — and it will be congressional Republicans who are to blame, the Biden administration said Tuesday.

The accusation reflects a last-ditch pressure campaign to save a federal program that has helped connect more than 23 million US households to the internet, many for the first time. Without it, those households will be forced to pay hundreds of dollars more per year to stay online.

By the end of the month, funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) will run out, jeopardizing the monthly discounts on internet service benefiting an estimated 59 million low-income people, including veterans, students and older Americans.

Many ACP subscribers would be forced to choose between paying for groceries and paying for internet service if the program is shut down, CNN has previously reported.

Although popular with users from across the ideological spectrum, the ACP’s future is in doubt as legislation to extend the program has stalled. Now, as the Federal Communications Commission has begun winding it down, the Biden administration is ramping up pressure on the GOP for standing in the way of a critical lifeline for accessing health care, jobs and education.

“President [Joe] Biden has been calling on Congress to pass legislation that would extend the benefit through 2024. And we know Democratic members and senators have joined him in that effort,” a senior administration official told reporters. “But unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have failed to act.”

Biden has called on Congress to approve $6 billion to continue the ACP. A bill introduced in January by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate would authorize $7 billion. That legislation has 216 co-sponsors in the House, including 21 Republicans, and three in the Senate, including two Republicans.

But policy experts have said it is unlikely Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson will let the bill onto the House floor as GOP leaders have decried government spending, despite the program being used in virtually every congressional district nationwide.

“It is clear the program would be extended if the speaker would allow a vote,” said Blair Levin, an analyst at the market research firm New Street Research. “So far, he has not said anything about it, but it appears he will not allow the House to vote on the legislation. He has not, to my knowledge, said anything substantive about the legislation or the program.”

Levin added that support by Republican Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota also suggest the bill would pass the Senate, making the House “the biggest obstacle.”

A spokesperson for Johnson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that Schumer “fought to include ACP funding – a vital lifeline for millions of American families across the country to get access to education, work, healthcare and more– in previous legislation and will continue to work to get the needed Republican support to fully fund and keep the program alive.”

The result is a stalemate that, if left unresolved, will lead to the collapse of the ACP by early May.

Administration officials declined to say whether Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris have personally discussed the ACP with congressional Republicans. But the officials told reporters there is currently no Plan B if Congress fails to extend the program.

“There are really no good options in a world in which Congress leaves us without any funding,” said another senior administration official. “There are certainly no easy answers for us to move forward if this program ends. So we want to work as hard as possible to make sure we avoid that possibility.”

Some lawmakers had hoped that money for the ACP could have been included in the recent bipartisan spending deal intended to keep the government open, but those hopes were ultimately left unfulfilled.

On Tuesday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel sent a letter to Congress outlining the impact that the ACP’s disruption would cause.

“The end of the ACP will have broad impact,” Rosenworcel wrote. “But it is worth noting that they will have special impact on certain vulnerable populations, including senior citizens. We know that nearly half of ACP households are led by someone over the age of 50.”

More than 4 million military households are signed up for the ACP, Rosenworcel added, while 3.4 million households within the ACP program reported using school lunch or breakfast programs, indicating that many program subscribers are parents of children whose ability to do homework assignments may be interrupted by the loss of the ACP. To qualify for the ACP, users are required to meet certain income limits or be a participant in one of a number of other federal aid programs, such as the National School Lunch Program.

Rosenworcel called on Sen. Maria Cantwell and the panel she chairs, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, to quickly advance legislation to extend the ACP. But the bill’s future remains foggy.

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