The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, plans to include broadband internet access in the Lifeline phone program and grant the poor a better chance at education. In the proposal presented last Thursday, May 28, Tom Wheelers stated that internet access is a critical factor in finding a job and being able to keep it.
Redefining the Lifeline Program
Established in 1985, the Lifeline program is targeted at low-income citizens and families and subsidies landline phone rates, protecting its beneficiaries from fluctuating market rates. The current subsidy of $9.25, updated in 2005, is just enough to provide one landline and cellular phone plan per home.
However, as Public Knowledge consumer advocacy group states, “voice is no longer sufficient to participate in society today. The broad assumption is that you’ve got broadband access somehow.” This assumption is not applicable for 53 percent of the families with annual incomes of under $30,000, while 15 percent of the US population has never accessed internet so far.
The Time Is Ripe for a Change
Including internet access in the subsidy is an imperative for granting equal opportunity to all the citizens of the United States to education and access on the job market. The proposal launched by Tom Wheeler states that the $9.25 subsidy should grant people the freedom to choose between phone and internet service. The internet service would be provided either by wire to a fixed address or on a smartphone.
Given the recent rules for net neutrality issued by the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year, broadband is a public utility, which should be accessible to all people, irrespective of their income thresholds. These rules attempt to narrow the divide between social classes and improve the access to information, education and career opportunities among the citizens of the United States.
Not a Straight Line to Victory
Although the expansion of the Lifeline program has a strong support from consumer advocacy groups and net neutrality activists, there will be a battle for its victory among the FCC commissioners.
Moreover, there are strong voices in the Capitol Hill criticizing the Lifeline program as susceptible to fraud, especially from the Republican side. Senator David Vittner has expressed in no uncertain terms that the FCC
“failed to manage Lifeline efficiently in its current form, and I cannot support any expansion of a program that has so few safeguards in place to protect the legitimacy of the program and the American taxpayers who pay into it.”
The vote for Lifeline subsidy expansion shall take place later in June.
Image Source: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler