Reactions to FCC Lifeline Modernization

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The Federal Communications Commission modernized and reformed its Lifeline program to help low income consumers afford access to the 21st Century’s vital communications network: the Internet. For the first time, Lifeline will support stand-alone broadband service as well as bundled voice and data service packages.

The Benton Foundation released the following statement: "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."

Sari Feldman, president of the American Library Association: “Broadband is essential to full participation in today’s digital age, and the American Library Association (ALA) commends the Commission for including broadband support as part of a modernized Lifeline program. With affordable, high-quality broadband access at the library, at school, and now within reach for millions more people at home, the Commission continues to fulfill its universal service mission."

Sarah Morris, senior counsel and director of Open Internet Policy at the Open Technology Institute of the New America Foundation: "Cost of access is a tremendous, documented barrier to broadband adoption. By modernizing the Lifeline program to support broadband, the FCC is taking a critical step to ensure that a our country's most vulnerable households have affordable access to a vital service that many of us take for granted."

Phillip Berenbroick, counsel for government affairs at Public Knowledge: "Chairman Wheeler’s Lifeline modernization proposal is a critical step toward making broadband affordable for all Americans. Access to broadband Internet service has become a necessity in modern America. We use broadband to communicate with loved ones, connect to education and health care, and to participate in our democracy and the global economy. Chairman Wheeler’s proposal will help close the digital divide and connect low-income Americans to the essential communications medium of the 21st century.we use broadband to communicate with loved ones, connect to education and health care, and to participate in our democracy and the global economy. Chairman Wheeler’s proposal will help close the digital divide and connect low-income Americans to the essential communications medium of the 21st century."

Matt Wood, Free Press Policy Director: “We welcome the FCC’s efforts to bring Lifeline fully into the modern era. The agency is taking aim at the digital divide with today’s decision. Broadband adoption continues to lag for low-income Americans, for people in communities of color, for the elderly and for poorer families with children. Implementing the agency’s originally proposed changes will help the FCC’s ongoing efforts to close these gaps. Today’s decision was possible only because of the tireless advocacy of leaders like Chairman Wheeler, Commissioner Clyburn and Commissioner Rosenworcel — and even more importantly, the eloquence and determination of grassroots leaders and Lifeline recipients who came to Washington and spoke out for change."

Chris Shelton, president of Communications Workers of America: “This subsidy is an important step toward ensuring that all Americans can share in the benefits that broadband access provides. We applaud the leadership of Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel in moving forward to help close the digital divide."

Cheryl Leanza, advisor at United Church of Christ: “The vote to modernize Lifeline and to provide the first nationwide subsidy for low-income household access to broadband service will make a huge difference in the lives of tens of millions of families. United Church of Christ's media justice ministry and its partners in the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights have been asking for the Lifeline program to subsidize broadband access since 2010."

Mark Stanley Demand Progress director of operations and communications: “In just the past week, over 15,000 Demand Progress members signed a petition calling on the FCC to modernize the Lifeline program. Expanding access to broadband is a crucial step in diminishing the inequality created by the digital divide, which poses a direct threat to our democracy and economy.”

James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media: “The FCC has helped to advance our understanding that access to high-speed Internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Adults need it to apply for jobs, upgrade their skills, access government services, and fully participate in our Democracy. And children and teens need it to complete their schoolwork, explore ideas and learn online, and seek answers about their health."

Wade Henderson of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: "By voting to bring the Lifeline program into the 21st century, the FCC will be taking a crucial step in narrowing our country’s digital divide and ensuring that all Americans have access to the essential communications services they need to live, learn, and work in today’s digital age."

AT&T SVP of federal regulatory Bob Quinn: “Notwithstanding the controversy that occurred over the Lifeline action at today’s meeting, positive steps were taken to move Lifeline into the 21st century by beginning the transition of the program from voice to broadband. The agency also started the process of removing carriers from determining whether or not consumers are eligible to receive the benefits of Lifeline service. The administrative reforms contemplated by today’s action will enable service providers to focus on better serving the participants in the program. We appreciated that the agency took the time to engage with stakeholders to understand the industry’s issues that exist in the current program."

Todd O’Boyle, program director at Common Cause: “Broadband connectivity is essential to full participation in society, but for too long, low-income households have been forced to rely on spotty connectivity at fast food restaurants and coffee shops. Thanks to today’s vote, more families will have access to the greatest engine for economic, educational, and civic opportunity ever created. Kudos to the majority at the FCC.”

Reactions to FCC Lifeline Modernization ALA applauds Lifeline program modernization to include broadband (ALA) Public Knowledge Applauds FCC Vote to Modernize Lifeline for the 21st Century (Public Knowledge) Lifeline Upgrade a Step Toward Closing America’s Digital Divide (Free Press)