Why thousands of Houston-area households could soon lose a crucial internet subsidy


A girls works on a laptop computer.

A program aimed at helping underserved communities afford internet service is expected to end in the coming months, a potential setback for efforts to close the digital divide.

In 2021, Congress pushed through the Affordable Connectivity Program as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The Federal Communications Commission was tasked with using $14.2 billion to develop and implement the program.

The program provides discounted broadband internet options — including subsidies for equipment such as laptops, smartphones and tablets — for qualifying households, which includes those with a child who is approved to receive free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program, including children who attend schools participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision. In Houston ISD alone, as many as 150,900 students are listed as economically disadvantaged and are eligible for help.

With its funding now tapped out, the program is no longer accepting new applications and is projected to end in April unless Congress authorizes additional funds. The program was created in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when many companies and schools closed down and switched to work-from-home or distance-learning models.

As of December 2023, there were more than 18.4 million subscribers using the service, including 1.45 million in Texas. In Harris County, more than 224,300 subscribers are using the program. The benefit is about $32.79 per user for a total of about $7.36 million locally.

In the nine counties around the Greater Houston area – Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller – there were more than 292,600 subscribers as of December 2023.

The digital divide — the gap between those who have technology resources like internet access and digital devices — is widely seen as an obstacle to educational attainment and economic mobility.

The digital divide a statewide problem, and the Texas Comptroller’s Office has recognized that broadband internet access is necessary for continued economic development, education, public safety, health care and agriculture. In a survey of 16,000 Texans for a comptroller’s report, 54% said their internet service was not affordable.

About 1 in 3 households in the state lack broadband access or a computer, according to research prepared by Public Policy Associates Inc. for the Texas Teachers Association. In particular, the lack of access affects rural school districts or those serving low-income students or communities of color.

According to a report by Bhaskar Chakravorti in his research initiative — Imagining a Digital Economy for All (IDEA) 2030 — the digital divide disproportionately affects minorities nationwide. In the research, about 70% of Black and 60% of Hispanic respondents reported being underprepared with digital skills, which in turn affected their employment options. About a third of all White workers were in jobs they could do from home in 2018, but fewer than 20% of Black and 16% of Hispanic workers could work remotely. Chakravorti reports that without additional support, a majority of Black and Hispanic workers could be locked out of 86% of jobs by 2045.

The Kinder Institute for Urban Research found that about 20% of Houston-area residents lacked the resources for children to do schoolwork while at home during the pandemic. The numbers for minorities were starker, with about 33% of Black families and 25% of Hispanic families lacking the technology to complete remote learning. Meanwhile, just about 10% of White and Asian families reported similar barriers.

About half of Houston ISD families with incomes below $20,000 reported not having internet access or digital devices for children to do schoolwork. In addition, in a separate survey of Houston ISD teachers and staff, 43% said they had students who lacked reliable access to digital devices. During the pandemic, being on the wrong side of the digital divide contributed to lower test scores, lower attendance and higher failure rates.

The Affordable Connectivity Program attempted to close some of the gaps. Among the benefits brought out by the pandemic was investment by area school districts in digital infrastructure — including laptops, internet hotspots and software — to help students. However, without access to the internet, much of this technology’s potential may go unrealized.

Those being affected by the end of the Affordable Connectivity Program may be able to take advantage of the Lifeline support program, which provides up to $9.25 off per month on the cost of phone, internet or bundled services.

To participate in the Lifeline program, consumers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participate in certain federal assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, the Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit and certain tribal programs.

Texas residents can apply for the program at

Downtown Houston
With hybrid work here to stay, downtown Houston is looking for office conversion candidates
INSIGHTS :  Nov. 1, 2022

With the rise of a hybrid and remote workforce as a result of COVID-19, developers are looking for ways to be less reliant on office leases to keep people downtown.

KHAS 23 Skyline
Kinder Houston Area Survey: 2023 Results
May. 15, 2023

The 42nd Kinder Houston Area Survey provides a glimpse into how Houstonians are thinking about the economy, affordable housing, inequality, and other critical challenges and issues facing their communities.



Mailing Address

6100 Main St. MS-208
Houston, TX 77005-1892

Subscribe to our e-newsletter

Physical Address

Rice University
Kraft Hall
6100 Main Street, Suite 305
Houston, TX 77005-1892

Featured Sponsor

Support the Kinder Institute