Affordable Connectivity Program helps students stay connected
Whitley Parker shares her experience with the ACP at a press conference at the Carver Branch Library in Baton Rouge.
By Luc Picard
When it comes to high-speed, reliable internet in Louisiana, many families have access but struggle to afford it. For Whitley Parker, the Affordable Connectivity Program was the solution.
The ACP offers eligible households a $30 monthly discount on internet services; that increases to $75 for eligible households on tribal lands. Households can qualify if the total household income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines or if one member of the household participates in any existing financial aid programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid and more.
Parker is a native of Delhi and a student at Southern University Law Center. She found out about the ACP through a community resource event and said it was a great help before she enrolled in law school.
“I recall it being fairly simple,” Parker said. “I went online, and once it told me whether I qualified, it gave me something that I took to the provider to determine what my rate would be.”
Once she took the documentation to her provider, the discount was applied to her next bill. This was in the summer of 2021, and she still receives the benefit today. According to Parker, the program was instrumental to her success in education.
“We were moved to Zoom pretty often my first year [of law school],” she said. “If I didn’t have reliable internet or any that I could afford, that would have impacted my study. In the world today with all this technology, people don’t really take no internet or bad internet connection as an excuse to miss class.”
Mike Hollier, executive director of Southwest Louisiana Regional Planning Commission, says that in his experience, people in rural areas often cannot afford the high rates charged by internet providers.
“They’re paying thousands of dollars a month,” Hollier said. “And sometimes just for adequate service, not even high performing service.”
Hollier's organization received a grant to conduct outreach for the ACP. One community event with between 6,000–8,000 attendees was held in Calcasieu Parish with four more planned for Allen, Beauregard, Jefferson Davis and Cameron parishes. Events like these are promoted through social and traditional media, and they give residents an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the ACP's benefits.
"We have a detailed plan to participate in fairs and festivals, as well as visits to library branches and churches," Hollier said. "Most churches and libraries will help promote the events since the ACP can be invaluable to the patrons and congregants."
Hollier said that most residents are receptive and supportive of the program, even those who do not qualify. He says that many people are uneasy about internet subscriptions because of the high costs. He compared broadband to other essential infrastructure such as electricity or sewer systems, but he said the difference in pricing is too much for many people to justify.
"If we don't have this out there at affordable costs," he said. "Pretty soon you won't have to worry about a sewer system because everybody's going to want to be where there is high-speed, affordable internet connectivity."
For Parker, the discount from the ACP means that she has one less uncertainty to worry about while she is in law school.
“Students are either not able to work at all, or they’re not able to work full time,” she said. “So it’s really just having that security, at least one area where you know that this is one particular bill that is kind of stabilized and won’t be super expensive. I have an idea of what it is going to be, and I can actually afford it.”
Parker joins more than 500,000 Louisianians who have enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program, and every internet service provider in the state accepts the discount.
For more information about the Affordable Connectivity Program and to see if you qualify, go to fcc.gov/acp.