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Biden: 20 providers agree to free Internet for low-income households

By Adam Schrader & Clyde Hughes
1/7
Biden: 20 providers agree to free Internet for low-income households
U.S. President Joe Biden makes remarks on how his administration is expanding access and lowering the cost of high-speed Internet for Americans through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law at the White House on Monday. Listening at left is Alicia Jones, a beneficiary of the Internet access program. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo

May 9 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Monday announced an agreement with 20 of the country's leading Internet providers to lower costs and increase broadband speeds for millions of Americans through the bipartisan infrastructure law.

"Over the last few months, my administration has worked closely with Internet providers, and this is a case where big business stepped up, urging them to cut their prices and raise their speeds. I'm trying to get others to do the same thing in the place, but these guys are the best," Biden said.

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"We secured a commitment from 20 providers, most of whom are in the [Rose Garden] today, and lower prices for high-speed Internet for tens of millions of households. So now families who are eligible can select a plan from a participating provider and receive high-speed Internet for no cost in most cases."

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Companies that have now committed to providing free high-speed Internet for families eligible under the previously announced Affordable Connectivity Program include AT&T, Comcast, Frontier, Spectrum and Verizon, among others, which together cover about 80% of the United States' population.

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The $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program was created as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, which Biden signed last November.

The program provides monthly broadband Internet discounts of up to $30 for households that are at or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines.

Biden said that such commitments include Verizon agreeing to lower the price of it's its high-speed service from $40 per month to $30 per month, which would allow for families eligible for the ACP program to receive Internet for free. Spectrum, which already had a $30 monthly plan, has committed to doubling its Internet speeds for eligible families.

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"We made sure that there would be no hidden fees, no tricks. This is straight stuff," Biden said. "This means fast Internet, good download speeds with no data caps and extra fees for millions of American families and it's going to change people's lives."

The president touted the new agreements with Internet service providers as "a great example of what we can achieve when the federal government and the private sector work together to solve serious problems."

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Biden noted that the program will promote competition between the companies, which will benefit consumers.

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"More than 65 million Americans live in a place with only one high-speed Internet provider," Biden said. "Research shows that when you live somewhere with limited Internet options, you pay five times more on average than families that have more choices. That's what limited competition does."

He said his administration is working to put a stop to the exclusive deals that landlords make with Internet companies, which would give families the option to choose a provider.

"The need for high-speed Internet is a little bit like what my grandfather talked about, you need to have a telephone, it's pretty consequential. And it's only going to keep growing, this need," Biden said. "High-speed Internet is not a luxury any longer. It's a necessity."

Biden was joined in the announcement by Vice President Kamala Harris who said that more than 30 million people in the United States do not have access to high-speed Internet "either because they live in communities where high-speed Internet is not easily available or more often because they cannot afford the cost of a plan."

"These folks are our seniors who have to take their telemedicine visits in the local library without the privacy that they want and are due," Harris said. "These are parents who cannot afford to work remotely and small business owners who cannot sell their products online."

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The Biden administration also announced that it has launched a new website, GetInternet.gov, that provides details on how Americans can sign up for ACP and find participating Internet providers in their area.

Others will be reached through federal agencies like Social Security and Medicaid. Nonprofits like Goodwill and the United Way will also promote the program.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks at an event about providing high-speed Internet access with Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House last year. File Photo by Alex Edelman/UPI

"We have been working on digital equity issues for over a decade and believe this new program offers even more support to achieve those goals," Comcast CEO David Watson said in a statement. "We are proud to work together with our government and community partners to close the digital divide."

Teresa Elder, CEO of regional Internet provider Wow, said COVID-19 showed how critical affordable, high-speed Internet service is for Americans who live on limited incomes.

"The pandemic has exacerbated the barriers that exist for people who have limited or no access to reliable, high-speed Internet, which is a necessity in today's remote learning and working environment," Elder said in a statement.

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"It's time for every American to experience the social, economic, health, employment and educational benefits of universal scaled access to the Internet," AT&T CEO John Stankey added.

"High-speed Internet service is no longer a luxury -- it's a necessity," the White House said. "But too many families go without high-speed Internet because of the cost or have to cut back on other essentials to make their monthly Internet service payments.

"Lowering prices -- including the cost of high-speed internet service -- is President Biden's top priority. Today, President Biden and Vice President Harris are announcing that they have secured private sector commitments that will lower high-speed Internet costs for millions of American families."

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