By Mike McNerney, Director, VetsinTech and USAF Veteran
A new veteran opens her laptop to tune in to her online class. A Vietnam War veteran checks his insulin levels in a diabetes management app. A recently laid-off veteran applies for new jobs online and trains on new skills. In today’s world, connectivity is essential to our daily lives. For more than 750,000 veterans across the United States, this connectivity is all made possible thanks to the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) – and unless Congress funds this essential program, those veterans will be cut off by Spring.
Originally launched as the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) to assist Americans in accessing the internet during the pandemic, the ACP now provides eligible citizens $30 monthly for internet service and a one-time stipend for a device. The program has been instrumental in keeping more than 21 million households connected across the U.S. and 2.5 million veterans are eligible. Unfortunately, funds are expected to run out by next April, leaving our communities and veteran populations suddenly without access.
Our organization, VetsinTech, provides current and returning veterans with reintegration services and connects them to the national technology ecosystem. We bring together a tech-specific network, resources and programs for our veterans interested in what we call the 3Es – education, entrepreneurship and employment. If 750,000 of them are suddenly disconnected, we can’t reach them and neither can anyone else.
Consider that in 2021 alone, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provided an extensive range of telehealth services, catering to over 2 million veterans. These services are vital for the 24% of veterans who live in rural areas with limited access to medical and mental health care. Veterans can use their GI Bill benefits to take online classes. And that’s not to mention the benefits that anyone can receive from connectivity: the ability to apply for a new job, learn a new skill, keep in touch with loved ones, run a business, stay on top of the news, and more.
Many VA pension recipients, in particular, qualify for the ACP. The VA has recently partnered with the Federal Communication Commission to make it easier for VA pension recipients to get internet access without submitting extra paperwork. For others, it’s unfortunately far more dire than simplifying paperwork. It is estimated that veterans are twice as likely to experience homelessness than the rest of the population, and 1.5 million veterans are at risk due to their income levels and housing insecurity. Getting online through the ACP may very well mean a veteran does not have to choose between paying for internet access or paying an electric bill.
We at VetsinTech are dedicated to serving those who have served. It is unthinkable that Congress would allow critical connectivity to our veterans to lapse. The White House recently released a supplemental funding request for $6 billion to fund the ACP through 2024. Fully funding the ACP is the least we can do and Congress must act now.
Michael McNerney is a technology entrepreneur and military veteran with a primary focus on cybersecurity. He currently works as the Chief Operations Officer of cybersecurity insurance startup Resilience Previously, he led the threat intelligence business at Arbor Networks and was the Co-founder & CEO of Efflux Systems, a cybersecurity startup focused on advanced network analytics (acquired by Arbor Networks).
Mike has also served as a Cyber Policy Advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and as a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. State Department. He is a veteran Air Force officer, an affiliate at the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation, the Chair & Co-founder of Technology for Global Security, and a Board Member of Vets-in-Tech. He graduated from the University of California, Davis, and earned his J.D. from American University, Washington College of Law.