FINAL VOTE MODERNIZES THE “LIFELINE” PROGRAM AND HELPS BRIDGE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
In a move strongly supported by the NAACP, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on March 31, 2016 to give final support to a plan to fully modernize and expand the Lifeline program to include Broadband service. Lifeline currently offers telephone service to low-income Americans who could otherwise not afford it, thus enabling communication between our nation’s most vulnerable and chronically underserved communities and their friends, families, public services, health care, educational services, and job opportunities among other crucial contacts. The move, which was lead by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, is a clear victory in efforts to bring the internet to low-income individuals, families, and communities and to begin to bridge the “digital divide.”
The Lifeline program was created in 1985 by then-President Ronald Reagan when land-line home telephone services were essential to all Americans. For 30 years, the Lifeline program has provided much-needed communications services to low-income Americans. The program was expanded to include cellular phones in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush.
The FCC’s announcement also included a proposal under which the agency will carefully monitor the new program to ensure that in addition to providing a much-needed service to low income Americans, American taxpayers will also benefit from this new initiative. The FCC will also take important steps to insure the program’s integrity and increase the number of companies offering services through the program.
The FCC’s final vote is intended to address the estimated nearly 100 million Americans who still do not have broadband Internet services at home. Studies have established that broadband adoption rates in urban and rural communities are largely associated with incomes levels and the high cost of broadband services. While more than 90% of the homes nationwide with incomes over $50,000 a year have broadband Internet service , that figure drops to 68% for homes bringing in $30,000-$50,000 a year, and to less than half in households making under $30,000.
The NAACP completely agrees with and supports FCC Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn when they said, in announcing the final vote, “We can recite statistics all we want, but we must never lose sight of the fact that what we’re really talking about is people – unemployed workers who miss out on jobs that are only listed online, students who go to fast-food restaurants to use the Wi-Fi hotspots to do homework, veterans who are unable to apply for their hard-earned benefits, seniors who can’t look up health information when they get sick. Internet access has become a pre-requisite for full participation in our economy and our society, but nearly one in five Americans is still not benefitting from the opportunities made possible by the most powerful and pervasive platform in history. We can do better. We must do better…by modernizing the FCC’s Lifeline program, we will do better.”