Thursday, June 18, 2020
Coalition Calls on FCC to Enhance Lifeline Benefits to Provide Instant COVID-19 Relief
Today, eight groups called on the Federal Communications Commission to provide support for unlimited talk and texting for recipients of its Lifeline program subsidy. The groups—Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, Common Cause, MediaJustice, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Open MIC (Open Media and Information Companies Initiative), Public Knowledge, and UnidosUS—are urging the FCC to make this immediate change to protect and promote civil rights by offering equitable access to life-saving and necessary communications services. Unlimited voice minutes and texting are much needed for Lifeline subscribers, particularly as many people in marginalized and impacted communities currently fighting COVID-19 are doing so without the communications services they require. Further, these services are crucial as people in all 50 states have assembled in mass protests to advocate against police brutality and systemic racism. The ability for low-income consumers to both remain safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic and participate in the democratic process is contingent on access to communications services—the Lifeline program is essential to ensuring consumers receive these services.
The following quote can be attributed to Andrew Jay Schwartzman, Senior Counselor, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society:
“Benton urges the FCC to act to help our most vulnerable neighbors during this national emergency. The pandemic has once again shone a light on the critical importance of telecommunications in health and education. Let’s ensure that we all can afford the connections that many of us take for granted.”
The following quote can be attributed to Yosef Getachew, Director of Media and Democracy Program at Common Cause:
“Hundreds of organizations urged the FCC months ago to expand the Lifeline program to meet the needs of low-income communities during the COVID-19 crisis including a requirement for providers to offer unlimited voice minutes and texting. The FCC has failed to take these steps despite evidence that the health crisis has had serious economic consequences for millions of families, particularly low-income and marginalized communities. Now is the time for the FCC to take swift action and ensure the Lifeline program can adequately support our most vulnerable communities during the pandemic.”
The following quote can be attributed to Brandon Forester, Organizer at MediaJustice
“How long must we wait for the FCC to demonstrate actual leadership? During this pandemic, the role of the FCC should be to make sure communities are connected as an essential part of the COVID-19 response. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, we see only indifference and cruelty in the place of leadership. No one, now or ever, should be forced to ration minutes and text messages. At a time when Black folks and our allies around the country are demanding police be defunded, we are also demanding investment in our communities. No one should be disconnected from their families, health care providers and other essential services during a pandemic. These are issues of life and death in Black and brown communities. Similar to the digital divide at-large, the pandemic is hitting our communities the hardest. Is the FCC finally willing to take action to show Black lives matter to them? Does it care about protecting and saving Black lives? FCC Chairman Ajit Pai still has an opportunity to show that he is more than just a puppet for the interests of giant corporations. How long must we wait? How long must we endure his failures? How many more people must we lose because of his inaction?”
The following quote can be attributed to Brenda V. Castillo, President & CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition:
"So many of our Black and Latinx families are deeply affected by this pandemic and are struggling with the loss of loved ones, small businesses, jobs, distance learning, and access to health care. Now, more than ever, is the time that our communities need to be connected–not only to recover, but to have a chance at surviving! NHMC and allies urged the Commission to take action months ago, and yet, here we are today still urging the FCC to do the bare minimum. Our country is in a crisis, and we need the Commission to make real changes to connect real people by investing in existing programs, like Lifeline. Lifeline saves lives!"
The following quote can be attributed to Amir Nasr, Policy Analyst at New America’s Open Technology Institute:
“As the country continues to fight COVID-19 and tens of millions of Americans are suffering from job losses, the FCC should take action to make sure that low-income consumers are equipped to communicate during these unprecedented times. People need their Lifeline service to handle this public health crisis and to keep in touch with doctors, family, and teachers, as well as other pillars of support in their communities. The FCC should immediately move to support unlimited voice minutes and texting in the Lifeline program to ensure nobody—particularly those who are most vulnerable to the virus—runs out of minutes or is required to ration their service during a time when communication is so central.”
The following quote can be attributed to Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC:
“The investors Open MIC represents believe strongly that affordable access to the Internet is vital for our democracy and the nation’s economy. At a time when jobs, livelihoods and the health of millions of Americans are threatened, it’s critically important that the FCC do everything it can to ensure that the Lifeline program enables communities to connect and communicate.”
The following quote can be attributed to Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:
“Unlimited talk and text can quite literally save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. We should not force anyone to choose between waiting on hold to speak to a doctor or risking their lives to seek medical care in-person that might not be necessary. Providing Lifeline enrollees with unlimited talk and text ensures that our most vulnerable communities don't have to ration their phone time, particularly when that phone time is all they have to reach the outside world. We need the FCC to take action on behalf of the public—not just telecommunications providers. We urge the FCC to demonstrate that it cares as much about the public as it does big business by taking action now.”
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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