End of pandemic internet subsidies threatens a health care lifeline for rural America

End of pandemic internet subsidies threatens a health care lifeline for rural America

By Sarah Jane Tribble, KFF Health News

Myrna Broncho realized just how necessary an internet connection can be after she broke her leg.

In fall 2021, the 69-year-old climbed a ladder to the top of a shed in her pasture. The roof that protects her horses and cows needed to be fixed. So, drill in hand, she pushed down.

That’s when she slipped.

Broncho said her leg snapped between a pair of ladder rungs as she fell, “and my bone was sticking out, and the only thing was holding it was my sock.”

Broncho arm-crawled back to her house to reach her phone. She hadn’t thought to take it with her because, she said, “I never really dealt with phones.”

Broncho needed nine surgeries and rehabilitation that took months. Her hospital was more than two hours away in Salt Lake City and her home internet connection was vital for her to keep track of records and appointments, as well as communicate with her medical staff.

During the coronavirus pandemic, federal lawmakers launched the Affordable Connectivity Program with the goal of connecting more people to their jobs, schools, and doctors. More than 23 million low-income households, including Broncho’s, eventually signed on. The program provided $30 monthly subsidies for internet bills, or $75 discounts in tribal or high-cost areas like Broncho’s.

Now, the ACP is out of money.

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