Lifeline Advocates Urge FCC Chairman Pai to Stand by his First Statements as Chairman and Safeguard the only Federal Program Targeting the Digital Divide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, June 29, 2017
Contact: Jackeline Stewart at [email protected] or Karley Kranich at [email protected], 202-448-0239

The Lifeline program gives affordable access to broadband and telephone services in rural and urban areas alike. It provides a lifeline for working families to employment opportunities, elderly people to health care, veterans to critical services, children to education and everyone to 911. Low-income households across the country should not be punished for recently discovered discrepancies that do not reflect the behavior of the vast majority of program participants. The following are statements from advocates in support of the Lifeline program:

Michael Copps, Former FCC Commissioner; Special Adviser, Common Cause:
“The bottom line is the FCC must fix what little needs repair and get on with the job of making broadband accessible to those who cannot afford the high prices providers charge for something everyone must have.”

Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“In today’s America, broadband is as essential as electricity was during the last century. But cost remains a serious barrier to internet access for millions of Americans. The Lifeline program has helped alleviate this burden for the most vulnerable and chronically underserved communities, bridging the digital divide by supporting low-income households’ access to high speed broadband Internet. We welcome efforts to root out fraud in the Lifeline program, but urge that any changes do not take away this vital program from the people who need it the most. Indeed, we encourage more carriers to participate, so that more low-income families can tap into the job opportunities, health care, social services, and education that access to broadband enables.”

Phillip Berenbroick, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge:
“The Lifeline program was established during the Reagan-era and has helped make critical communications services more affordable for low-income families for more than thirty years.

“In 2016 the FCC recognized that the internet is the essential communications service of the 21st century, and that families rely on broadband access for communicating with loved ones, as well as education, employment, health care, news, and civic engagement. As a result, the FCC modernized the Lifeline program to meet the needs of low-income families that could not afford broadband services -- to help close the affordability gap that limits the economic and educational opportunities for millions of families.

“Historically, the improper payment rate of the Lifeline program has been significantly lower than the corresponding rate across the federal government. Since 2012, the Commission has repeatedly taken action to protect the integrity of the Lifeline program. As GAO reported in 2015, the FCC has demonstrated significant progress implementing its reforms to address problems with duplicates and ineligible participants.

“Today’s GAO’s report reflects the need for the FCC and USAC to fully build out the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier established by the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order. The National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier will help ensure that subscribers are eligible to participate in the Lifeline program; that service providers can focus their resources on serving consumers; and that ratepayers to the Universal Service Fund have confidence their contributions are increasing the affordability of broadband access for low-income households and promoting universal service.”

Adrianne B. Furniss, Executive Director, Benton Foundation:
“Although there has been great progress extending broadband’s reach to more and more Americans, there remain too many households and communities that are not enjoying the benefits of broadband. Research shows, for example, that families earning under $25,000 a year are about half as likely to have the Internet at home as families that are the most well-off. The FCC’s Lifeline program brings the many benefits of reliable, robust Internet access to low-income households. That means better access to job listings and workforce training, to education and healthcare, and allows people to fully engage in today’s society.

“In 2016, the FCC outlined plans for a Lifeline National Eligibility Verifier that would relieve from carriers the responsibility of checking on households’ Lifeline eligibility. We urge the FCC to move swiftly to implement those plans and ensure the program’s financial health.”

Debbie Goldman, Telecommunications Policy Director Communications Workers of America:
“The Communications Workers of America has long supported Lifeline, a vital program that reduces the economic barriers to modern communications services. The FCC’s recent Lifeline modernization order shifts program eligibility verification away from service providers to the new National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier. This significant change will ensure program integrity moving forward. What’s important now is to implement the modernization order and encourage robust participation – from customers and carriers – in the Lifeline program. Too many families across the country remain without access to modern communications services like broadband. Closing the digital divide by providing affordable broadband is essential to achieving the full social and economic participation of all Americans.”

Paul Goodman, Telecommunications Senior Legal Counsel, The Greenlining Institute:
“The Lifeline program helps low-income households of color can stay connected to the services they need, the friends and family they love, and critical employment, education and civic engagement opportunities. Lifeline helps ensure that every child can do their homework, every adult can search for a job and every family can stay in touch no matter how far apart they are. In California, which has implemented a robust statewide eligibility verification system, the Lifeline program has been an unqualified success.”

Cheryl Leanza, Policy Advisor, United Church of Christ, OC Inc.:
“Since 1997, the United Church of Christ has formally recognized we risk becoming a society of "information rich" and "information poor" -- with dramatic consequences for exacerbating inequities that already exist in our midst. Communications is a human right -- a tool that connects us to our communities, helps to disclose injustice, and facilitates innumerable aspects of modern life. Lifeline is the only program that assists households with the cost of broadband internet. Fortunately, last year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) modernized the Lifeline program and established new, more rigorous safeguards. We insist that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai move ahead swiftly to ensure the new eligibility verification process will be implemented as quickly as possible.”

John C. Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC):
“Lifeline and similar programs provide a critical service to families that could not otherwise afford broadband access. This includes many Asian Americans who live at or below the poverty line. Lifeline's broadband access helps to level the playing field and is a critical piece of the policy puzzle to close the digital divide. We need programs like Lifeline in the fight to ensure no community is marginalized because access to technology is lacking.”