FCC Vote Brings Broadband to Digital Deserts

Earlier today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to modernize its Lifeline program. The FCC order will update the Reagan-era telephone subsidy program and refocus it on making broadband service affordable for low-income Americans. The following may be attributed to Benton Foundation Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss and Policy Director Amina Fazlullah:

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to modernize its Lifeline program, refocusing it on bringing affordable broadband to millions of low-income Americans. This marks the largest commitment ever to address the number one barrier to broadband adoption: cost.

And it will fulfill for generations a promise that dates back to 1934: to make available to all people of the United States, a worldwide telecommunications service at reasonable charges.

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. We call these places Digital Deserts. 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 reforms adopted today will reduce administrative burdens so more providers will participate and compete for new subscribers. This competition will create new options for broadband subscribers. Adding a National Eligibility Verifier also advances the fight against fraud, waste and abuse of the program.

But most importantly, today’s decision means Lifeline subsidies will bring all the many benefits of reliable 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.

Bringing broadband to these people is like bringing water to a desert. The FCC’s irrigation will transform deserts to oases of opportunity.

Congress, in 1996, directed the FCC to ensure all Americans have affordable access to the Internet. Today, the FCC makes good on that promise.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel have led the way on Lifeline reform. The Benton Foundation commends their leadership.

Benton will continue to work with the Commission as the Lifeline order is implemented and we look forward to helping the FCC build a robust digital inclusion plan.