A April 2013 Congressional hearing made us think – “Why don’t we make it easy for people to follow developments in the FCC’s Lifeline program?”
There are almost three times as many Americans without a broadband subscription in blue urban areas than in red state rural areas. The Trump Federal Communications Commission, by focusing its attention on rural areas with a lack of access (i.e., those unable to get broadband) is dealing with only part of the digital divide. The larger part of the digital divide is adoption; those Americans who may have broadband available, but don’t or can’t use it. Here are three solutions the Trump FCC could pursue if they really were dedicated to making the digital divide their “number one priority.”
On June 17, 2020, various Members of Congress wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to urge the FCC to implement Lifeline waivers for all Lifeline applicants, as the FCC did for rural Tribal residents in June.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) led a group of 25 senators in calling on the Federal Communications Commission to boost its Lifeline program to keep students connected as millions return to school both virtually and in person. Since 1985, the FCC’s Lifeline program has made basic internet and telephone service more affordable for low-income Americans and has had bipartisan support.
Much of the focus in policy circles has been on how to expand broadband access to those Americans without it. This is a worthy goal, but we should not lose sight of the magnitude of the other part of the digital divide: the adoption gap. FCC data shows about 35% or approximately 114 million Americans do not subscribe to broadband service at their homes. Cost is often cited as the leading factor for why Americans do not subscribe to broadband even when it is offered. Clearly, we need a strategy to address this gap, too.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai may have thought he was doing wireless carriers a favor when he slashed by nearly two-thirds a potentially costly requirement that they increase data for low-income subscribers starting in December. Instead, budget carriers are fighting his plan, leaving an uncertain future for Lifeline, the Federal Communications Commission’s program to help low-income Americans pay their phone and broadband bills. Pai’s draft order would force carriers like TracFone Wireless to provide 1.5 GB more data than currently required under Lifeline.
In light of the ongoing pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission finds good cause to extend its prior waivers of certain Lifeline program rules governing recertification, reverification, general deenrollment, subscriber usage, income documentation, and documentation requirements for subscribers residing in rural areas on Tribal lands through November 30, 2020. The FCC will continue to monitor the situation to determine whether any additional extension of these waivers is appropriate.
House Commerce Democrats Urge Pai to Expand Connectivity Using FCC’s Lifeline Program During COVID-19 Pandemic
Fifteen members of the House Commerce Committee sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to provide unlimited voice minutes and mobile data to Lifeline recipients, with a corresponding increase in the support amount to cover incremental costs, for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lifeline program helps low-income Americans afford phone or internet service, but during COVID-19, the program must be supercharged to accommodate new necessities. Given the importance of connectivity and remote learning, working, and healthcare during the pandemic,
Civil Rights, Labor and Anti-Poverty Groups Demand FCC Amend Lifeline to Help Low-Income Americans Pay Their Bills
As the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic continues throughout the United States, a coalition of 25 organizations including the NAACP, the National Consumer Law Center and the Communications Workers of America is urging the Federal Communications Commission to make a number of changes to the Lifeline voice and broadband subsidy program to help low-income Americans pay their phone and internet bills. Among its requests, the coalition is calling on the FCC in a
Although Lifeline eligibility is now linked directly to the Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, Lifeline has adopted none of the technology advances designed to make it both consumer and provider-friendly. If the Lifeline program is to play a bigger role in addressing the well-documented internet usage gaps for low-income Americans, the program must be modernized. In a modernized Lifeline program, eligible households would apply
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai circulated an order to his colleagues that would improve the way the FCC calculates annual updates to the minimum service standard for mobile broadband service provided through the Lifeline program. The draft order would revise the FCC's existing methodology to ensure predictable, reasonable yearly updates to the standard so that Lifeline subscribers can receive robust yet affordable mobile broadband service.