The End of the Affordable Connectivity Program: Impact on K-12 Students & the Digital Divide


12 million or more K-12 students do not have sufficient access to reliable, high-speed broadband and technology tools for learning at home – representing almost a quarter (22%) of all K-12 students. This lack of access to digital tools and online learning opportunities has a significant impact on these students’ success and achievement.

In response to the digital divide, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). This program ran for two and a half years, officially coming to an end on June 1, 2024. As a result, concerns are now mounting about the potential setbacks for students who depend on this support to stay connected and succeed academically.

Initiatives such as the FCC’s current Hotspot Lending Proposal, which will come to a vote at the Commission’s July 18th Open Commission Meeting, seek to restore much-needed connectivity to those in need. Regardless, the loss of the ACP must be addressed.

Understanding the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)

The Affordable Connectivity Program was a $14.2 billion program established in December 2021 to provide affordable broadband to low-income households, including those with school-aged children. 23 million households across the country received discounted Internet services and device subsidies through the ACP. The program was particularly crucial for K-12 students during the COVID-19 pandemic, when remote learning became the norm and highlighted the disparities in digital access among students.

This map from Government Technology demonstrates the geographical areas of the country hit hardest by the end of the ACP.

The Significance of Internet Access for K-12 Students

Internet access has become a crucial educational tool. From accessing digital textbooks and submitting assignments online to participating in virtual classrooms and conducting research, a large share of learning now takes place online. Students without reliable broadband access at home are at a distinct disadvantage, and may face significant challenges in completing homework, staying up-to-date with classwork, and engaging in supplementary educational activities that enhance learning.

What’s more, online resources offer students avenues to explore their interests, develop new skills, and connect with peers and mentors. Without these opportunities, students risk falling behind not only academically but also in terms of their personal and social development.

The Impact of the ACP’s End on K-12 Students

The sunset of the Affordable Connectivity Program raises significant concerns about the continuity of digital access for many students. Here are several ways in which the end of the ACP could affect K-12 students who do not have Internet access at home:

  1. Increased Academic Disparities: The ACP played a critical role in leveling the playing field for students from low-income families. Without it, the gap between students with and without Internet access is likely to widen, exacerbating existing educational inequities. Students without access may struggle to keep up with their peers, leading to lower academic performance and decreased engagement.
  2. Challenges in Remote and Hybrid Learning: Although schools have largely returned to in-person learning, remote and hybrid learning models remain in place in many districts. These models rely heavily on digital access. Without affordable Internet, students may face difficulties in participating fully in these learning environments, hindering their ability to benefit from flexible learning options.
  3. Limited Access to Educational Resources: The Internet provides a wealth of educational resources, including online libraries, educational videos, interactive learning tools, and more. Students without home Internet access will miss out on these resources, limiting their ability to explore subjects in depth and supplement their classroom learning.
  4. Decreased Parental Involvement: Parents play a crucial role in supporting their children’s education. Online tools, such as email and Learning Management Systems (LMS), allow parents to stay informed about school activities, communicate with teachers, and access educational resources to help their children. Without affordable Internet access parental involvement may diminish, further impacting student success.
  5. Psychosocial Impact: The digital divide can have serious implications for students’ social wellbeing, too. Students without Internet access may feel isolated from their peers who can easily connect online. This isolation can affect their mental health and sense of belonging, which are important factors in overall well-being and academic success.

How Schools and Communities Can Respond to the End of the ACP

The end of the Affordable Connectivity Program should encourage all of us to do our part to bridge the digital divide. Here are some of the proactive steps that schools, communities, and policymakers can take to mitigate the impact on students:

  • Expand School-Based Internet Access: Schools can extend their Internet access to students outside of school hours. This can include keeping computer labs open after school, providing Wi-Fi hotspots in school parking lots, and setting up community centers where students can access the Internet.
  • Invest in Mobile Hotspots: Schools can provide mobile hotspots to students who do not have Internet access at home. These devices can be loaned to students on an as-needed basis, ensuring they can stay connected and complete their schoolwork. See how Kajeet SmartSpot devices keep students safely connected.
  • Community-Based Solutions: Community organizations and local governments can play a role in bridging the digital divide. Establishing public Wi-Fi zones, offering digital literacy programs, and providing resources for families to access affordable Internet can make a significant difference.
  • Advocate for Policy Changes: Advocacy at the state and federal levels is crucial to ensure that programs like the ACP are continued or replaced with similar initiatives. Policymakers need to understand the importance of affordable Internet access for educational equity and work towards sustainable solutions.

Working Together for a More Connected Future

While the sunset of the Affordable Connectivity Program is undeniably a setback for many K-12 students who rely on affordable Internet access to succeed academically, schools and communities can continue to support these students by taking proactive steps and leveraging community resources. Ensuring that every student has the opportunity to stay connected and engaged in their education is not just a matter of academic success, but also of equity and social justice. As we move forward, it is essential to prioritize digital access and work collaboratively to bridge the digital divide for the benefit of all students.

Kajeet has been mission-focused on enabling students to safely engage with the online world since our founding in 2003. Our suite of education-focused solutions, including mobile hotspots, LTE-embedded laptops and tablets, and routers, helps 2,500+ school districts across the nation keep their students connected. Learn more about what it looks like to partner with us,  or contact us today to talk over how you can mitigate the loss of the ACP for your students.

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Tag(s): Blog Posts , Education