FCC Providing Broadband To Poor Families Through Lifeline


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The FCC is reforming and modernizing their Lifeline program that provides telephone service to poor families across the nation.

On their Web site today, the FCC detailed the planned changes to the Lifeline program. For those unaware, the Lifeline program “fulfills Congress’ mandate to ensure the availability of communications to all Americans.” The program prides itself on providing millions of low-income Americans basic phone service.

While the program has raised the rate of households with phone service from 80 percent in 1985 to 92 percent last year, there’s still more to be done according to the FCC. They say that the program contains rules that have “failed to keep pace as consumers increasingly choose wireless phone service.”

The FCC plans to save $200 million in 2012 and force themselves to adopt a budget for 2013 after reviewing a six-month report. They are to create a National Lifeline Accountability Database to “prevent multiple carriers from receiving support for the same subscriber.” There is also the creation of an eligibility database to cut down on fraud. The group is lastly establishing a one-per-household rule that would define a household as an “economic unit” so that multiple low-income families living at the same address can get connected.

The FCC will be phasing out support for services like Toll Limitation - “subsidies to carriers for blocking or restricting long-distance service" and ending Link Up - “subsidies to carriers for initial connection charges.” They do, however, say that Link Up will continue in tribal lands.

The more interesting part is that the FCC will be modernizing Lifeline to include money that will help low-income families afford broadband Internet.

They will establish the “Broadband Adoption Pilot Program” using $25 million in savings from other reforms. They will start soliciting applications from broadband providers this year and will select a number of projects to fund. They want to clarify that this is not a free meal. Lifeline will help reduce the monthly cost of broadband, but applicants will have to pony up for the cost of the devices and become digitally literate.

They also propose digital literacy training at libraries and schools. This will build on FCC efforts to “close the broadband adoption gap and address digital literacy.”

Lastly, they want to provide Lifeline support for “bundled services plans combining voice and broadband or packages including optional calling features.”

It’s about time that the FCC brings the Internet to low-income households. The Internet has become so ingrained in our culture that not having it essentially puts a person out of the job market and reduces access to information and education.

Is this playing into the idea of the Internet as a basic human right? Or is the FCC just, as they say, modernizing their program? Let us know in the comments.