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Jan 26, 2024

'The program is vital': Monthly internet discount helping 96k Maine households could end

PORTLAND (WGME)-- Roughly one in six Maine households is getting help paying for high-speed internet, but that federal program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law could run out of money in just a few months.

The Affordable Connectivity Program has helped millions save $30-$75 each month on internet and get $100 off an eligible device.

Without more funding, its end may affect us all, even if you don't receive the benefit.

"It's been great," Mathieu St. Thomas, who lived in Fairfield, said.

St. Thomas says the discounts helped him do mobile banking, order food and stream videos.

"I had a roommate living with me during COVID who was physically disabled, so it definitely was a game changer for her," St. Thomas said. "The program is vital for rural Mainers."

He found that out, especially, after recent storms.

"You just need the online access to not only document the damage but to be able to upload those to websites necessary to get help," St. Thomas said.

But advocates, and the White House, warn funding could run out in April or May.

"[Thursday] was the deadline for providers to send out the first of three notices that the program is coming to an end soon," Institute for Local Self-Reliance Senior GIS Analyst Christine Parker said.

To qualify, your household has to be at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty guidelines or fit other criteria.

"If you have a child who is receiving a free lunch or if you're receiving any kind of benefit, federal or state level benefit program, you are eligible," Parker said.

"These are the households that are most vulnerable in our society and would face the greatest level of financial burden from the loss of an internet connection," Maine Connectivity Authority State Policy and Agency Partnerships Director Kiera Reardon said.

And that would have ripple effects.

"If households are not able to afford that service because this program goes away, then it becomes more difficult for our providers to provide service in rural Maine," Reardon said.

But a bipartisan bill would provide $7 billion for the ACP.

Senator Angus King, Representative Chellie Pingree and Representative Jared Golden are supporting it.

Senator Susan Collins' Office confirmed she is not a co-sponsor but did not respond to an email from CBS13 asking if she plans on supporting it.

"We expect that would get us through the end of 2024 based on how much is remaining," Parker said.

Lewiston resident Beth Mathews wants it to continue.

"It's crucial for her education," Matthews said. "We do pretty much everything online."

Her daughter is homeschooled. They switched providers just to get the discount.

For now, people have through February 7 to sign up.

After that, there are other options.

The Maine Connectivity Authority says there's "Lifeline," which offers a smaller discount for fewer households.

And a number of providers may have their own programs.

"We are certainly monitoring this to see if we need to explore some sort of a state-level program," Reardon said.

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