Next Century Cities Emphasizes the Importance of the Affordable Connectivity Program on a Pennsylvania Bar Institute Panel Discussion

By Ryan Johnston

The Pennsylvania Bar Institute is the continuing legal education arm of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. Each year, PBI hosts a public utilities law conference, bringing together attorneys from across the state working on power, oil and gas, water, and telecommunications issues. 

On June 2, 2023, Next Century Cities’ Ryan Johnston provided remarks on a panel entitled “Affordable Connectivity Program (“ACP”) – What Is It and Why Does It Matter?” Panelists included Matthew Franchack, Policy Director for Pennsylvania Senator John Kane; Chloe Mandara, Legislative Director for Pennsylvania Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill; and Elizabeth Marx, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project. The discussion centered on how Pennsylvania residents have benefitted from the ACP, challenges associated with public awareness and enrollment, and initiatives that could expand affordable broadband access.

In his remarks, Johnston highlighted that approximately 30% of eligible households are enrolled statewide, slightly lower than the national enrollment rate of 35%. He also noted that funding for the ACP will likely be exhausted by the second quarter of 2024. Additionally, Johnston outlined the challenges related to securing new ACP funding and urged audience members to reiterate the need for the broadband subsidy with state and federal lawmakers. 

Franchack and Mandara provided insights into state senate efforts to work with the Pennsylvania Broadband Authority to prioritize affordability and digital equity in state BEAD planning. They also expressed concerns that the end of the ACP program could have a ripple effect that disrupts precision agriculture and disconnects many vulnerable farmworkers. 

Similarly, Marx highlighted connectivity challenges that low-income Pennsylvanians in both rural and urban areas have in accessing the ACP program. She explained that advertisement and outreach efforts have been “too little, too late.” Noting how ACP Outreach Grants are just now beginning to be disbursed, the grants may only be spent in time for program funding to reach a potential end. 

Each panelist shared a hope for the future of broadband. Johnston explained why the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority should  work closely with urban and rural communities to inform the State’s five-year BEAD action plan. Local leaders across the Commonwealth share that concern. 

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