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Affordable Connectivity Program bringing high-speed internet to more Florida households | Opinion

High-speed internet opens the door to a world of possibilities — for students to learn, for families and friends to stay connected, for workers to find jobs, for businesses to grow and so much more. But it also comes at a price and, for many years, that expense was more than some families could afford.

Now, through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), the federal government and private service providers are working together to expand access to low-cost high-speed internet for millions of Floridians. The ACP provides a monthly benefit of up to $30 for internet service for eligible households, and companies such as AT&T have low-cost programs available, which ultimately make the service free for those who qualify.

In Florida, there are more than 3.5 million eligible households. However, only 33% of those households are currently signed up for and receiving the ACP benefit. That means there are approximately 2.35 million households that could be receiving free internet service, and all of the possibilities that come along with it, but aren’t.

Unfortunately, many are not aware the ACP is available or that they might be eligible. Today, high-speed internet access has become a basic necessity, and this program can help us make great strides in closing the digital divide that still exists in our state. We must do more to bring awareness to this important program and ensure we are taking full advantage of it in Florida.

To ensure the ACP truly helps those most in need, households must meet the federal government’s eligibility criteria — such as those with an annual income limit at or below 200% of Federal Poverty Guidelines ($27,180 for a household of one) or who participate in a qualifying assistance program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Free and Reduced-Price Lunch or Pell Grants.

Individuals can apply online at ACPBenefit.org and, in most cases, receive immediate approval if they qualify. There are also options to apply by mail or directly through an internet service provider. Once approved, individuals can contact a participating company of their choice that offers ACP discounts, sign up for service and have the discount applied. It’s that easy.

As important, the program also includes a one-time $100 discount toward a laptop, desktop computer or tablet, so households not only have internet service available, but also a reliable way to access it.

With the ACP, Florida families in need no longer will be left behind in our internet-centered world. With this funding, and the help of the industry, we can ensure more households get and stay connected to the internet. That’s good for everyone — students, workers, businesses and our great state.

Bob Rosasco founded the Habitat For Humanity (Miami affiliate) in 1989 and led the organization for 30 years.