More than 400 comments have poured into the Federal Communications Commission over the past two months, and September 30, 2015 marked the close of the Commission’s effort to get public input on whether Lifeline should be expanded to include broadband.
Today, people qualifying for Lifeline receive a $9.25 monthly subsidy that can be applied to their home or mobile phones. If the FCC decides to expand the Lifeline program, beneficiaries will be able to decide if they want to use that money to help offset the cost of broadband service, or a combination of telephone and broadband service.
Of the many groups who weighed in, fifteen civil rights, social justice, and business organizations, including the National Urban League, Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council, NAACP, National Association of Neighbors, National Council of La Raza, and OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, among others (“Lifeline Supporters”), joined recommended the modernization of the Lifeline program to include access to high-speed broadband. They encouraged the Commission to “adopt rules that will close the digital divide, improve quality of life and create pathways to first class digital citizenship for low-income, veteran, older and disabled consumers.”
In their latest comments, the Lifeline Supporters, affirm their desire to see the Commission create a new structure for the Lifeline program that’s geared toward equitably increasing opportunities for people to access broadband. Notably, they say the Commission should:
- “advance reasonably comparable programs under Lifeline reform that offer voice-only, broadband or both to eligible consumers, and to adopt program eligibility requirements that recognize the prevalence of “shared households” among low-income Americans;”
- “re-evaluate wooden adherence to the “one-per-household rule” requirement;”
- “adjust the “one-per-household rule” requirement on wireless to “one Lifeline subsidy per adult” to accommodate impoverished residents over the age of 18 residing in the same household;”
- “oppose the implementation of credit or background checks for any eligible consumer who seeks enrollment in the program, and …discourage the collection of unnecessary personal information that could adversely impact program eligibility;”
- ensure that “any established minimum standards for fixed or wireless services should provide the necessary bandwidth” for “closing the ‘homework gap’ and the digital divide by connecting people to vital services;”
- “give Lifeline recipients the ability to access commercially reasonable high-speed service offerings that can potentially provide more competitive options for them;” and
- “gather additional data on whether a permanent $9.25 price point for the Lifeline subsidy, or other price points, would be sufficient to accommodate the program’s desire to include broadband.”
In addition to the above suggestions, the Lifeline Supporters value transparency and quality information sharing about this revised program and its benefits to “lessen the potential for predatory practices and scams that prey on historically disadvantaged communities.” Thinking about how benefits transfer to users, Lifeline Supporters endorse a coordinated enrollment and verification with the SNAP program, as well as the use of a “Lifeline Benefit Card” that distributes the benefit directly to consumers, and maintains the consumer’s personal dignity to act on their own choices.
The FCC is expected to issue its decision on Lifeline reform in early 2016.