Benton Tells FCC: Use Lifeline to Make Broadband More Affordable

In comments filed at the Federal Communications Commission on August 31, the Benton Foundation said that broadband service is crucial to full participation in our society and economy which are increasingly dependent upon the rapid exchange of information. In its filing, Benton focuses on the potential benefits of broadband for low-income consumers, especially ones that have: a) schoolchildren, b) unemployed or underemployed adults, c) people with disabilities, and d) people affected by illnesses.

“By making broadband more affordable for low-income consumers through its Lifeline program,” said Benton’s Director of Policy, Amina Fazlullah, “the FCC will help facilitate better connections within these people’s communities, and to the world.”

Benton asks the FCC to establish minimum service standards for Lifeline voice, text messaging and broadband services with two main goals: 1) to ensure Lifeline recipients receive services that facilitate meaningful, functional use, and 2) to afford adaptability for the different needs of Lifeline-eligible populations in different geographical areas and markets. In setting the standards, Benton says, the FCC should encourage competition and consumer choice for both voice and broadband service wherever possible. When setting minimum service standards for broadband, the FCC must discourage providers from rolling out wired or wireless services that include data caps, Benton says, due to their pernicious effects on low-income households. Data caps often come with hidden financial costs that confuse consumers and potentially bump up their bills in unforeseen ways.

Benton also suggests that the FCC allow non-traditional providers -- such as small and community-based broadband providers, wireless Internet service providers (WISPs), and anchor institutions like schools and libraries -- to participate in Lifeline to increase competition and innovation in the market. And, as recommended in the National Broadband Plan, the FCC should consider free or very low-cost wireless broadband as a means to address the affordability barrier to adoption.

See Benton's filing