(WNY News Now) – BUFFALO, N.Y. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library to announce the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act, legislation to provide $7 billion in funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a federal program that provides financial assistance to low-income households to help them afford high-speed internet. Over 1.7 million New York households – including over 97,000 in Erie County – rely on the program, but it is set to run out of funding by April. Without additional funding, these families will either be forced to pay full price for internet – an unaffordable option for many – or lose access to broadband services entirely. The legislation would extend funding for the program and ensure that Buffalo-area families can continue to afford the broadband services they need to work remotely, complete online coursework, attend telehealth appointments, and more.
Gillibrand was joined by Executive Director of ErieNet Melissa Hartman; Outreach & Digital Equity Coordinator of Western New York Library Resources Council Heidi Ziemer; Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Chief Operating Officer Jeannine Purtell; and Director of Operations for Literacy Buffalo Niagara Amy Mazur.
“Fast, reliable internet is no longer a luxury – it is a necessity for everyday life,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I helped establish the Affordable Connectivity Program as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to make sure families across our state can work remotely, complete online coursework, access telehealth appointments, and more. With funding for this critical program set to run out in just a few months, I’m announcing this legislation to allocate more money for the ACP and help close the digital divide.”
“Thank you Senator and thank you for your continued commitment to WNY and Erie County. Your hard work in Washington has made connectivity achievable for all residents and through programs such as the Affordable Connectivity Program, students now can complete schoolwork outside of classrooms, seniors can participate in telehealth from the comforts of their homes and working families can expand their job searches to include work-from-home options,” said Executive Director of ErieNet Melissa Hartman.
“Digital tools and skills are becoming more important by the day. To earn a living and navigate public and social systems, adults of all ages, races, genders need to continuously develop their digital skills. Digital Literacy is as fundamental to success in life as basic reading and math skills and connectivity is more important than ever,” said Tara Schafer, Executive Director of Literacy Buffalo Niagara.
“Libraries have traditionally been centers for learning and obtaining information. In today’s world of computers, smartphones, smart TVs, and more, libraries play a key role in promoting digital literacy for everyone. Here, in the 37 Buffalo & Erie County Public Libraries, we provide access to downloadable resources, technology training, computers, WiFi, and programs that help people of all ages and backgrounds to learn and develop skills needed to successfully navigate the digital world. There are nearly 1,000 public computers available in the 37 libraries and patrons can borrow Chromebooks and hotspots just like one would borrow a book. Libraries act as the bridge between people who have limited access and knowledge to technology and those who have more advanced skills, helping to reduce the digital divide and promote digital education and inclusion for all,” said Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Director John Spears.
“The ACP was borne out of the pandemic and now that the crisis seems to have subsided, everyone thinks the problems it highlighted have gone away too. But digital distress was a reality for many New Yorkers long before the pandemic and was not created from it. It was created from years of policies that bent to the will of the ISPs who had all the technology and technical knowledge to steer the state’s foray into the internet. Digital inequities essentially reflect all the other inequities that different population have been confronted with for years: low-income families in urban, rural, and even suburban areas, elderly, veterans, minority people of color, people with disabilities, and the formerly incarcerated. These people have faced inequities in health, education, employment, housing, and more, and with our everyday services all gong ‘online,’ these inequities will continue and will be exacerbated in new ways. Digital equity is something we need to work towards, step by step, and the ACP could be just one step in the process. It must be followed with more actions and coordinated efforts and policies to ensure all New Yorkers will have opportunities to enjoy what is rightfully theirs; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Outreach & Digital Equity Coordinator of Western New York Library Resources Council Heidi Ziemer.
Established in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the ACP lowers the out-of-pocket cost of broadband service and devices for working families. The program provides a monthly discount of up to $30 per month off the cost of Internet service and equipment as well as a one-time discount of up to $100 off a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet. In qualifying rural communities and qualifying Tribal lands, the monthly discount may be up to $75 per month. More information about the Affordable Connectivity Program is available here.