Today, EveryoneOn filed a letter of support with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to advocate for the reform of a $1.5 billion per year phone subsidy program called Lifeline to provide a broadband subsidy to help low-income Americans get online. Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn submitted a proposal to revamp the FCC’s Lifeline Program. The FCC is scheduled to vote on the Chairman’s proposal at its upcoming March 31, 2016 meeting.
The Lifeline program was created in 1985 and since that time has only directly subsidized the provision of voice telephone service for eligible low-income households. One of the major changes proposed is the application of this subsidy. Specifically, eligible low-income households would be able to use the provided $9.25 per month subsidy to purchase standalone broadband service, voice-only service or apply it to bundled voice and broadband service.
With the proposed change to allow the $9.25 per month subsidy to be applied to not just voice service, but Internet service or a bundle of both, we believe that millions of more Americans will adopt Internet at home.
Currently, most of the low-cost offers negotiated by EveryoneOn are priced at approximately $10 per month. With this reform, these families could adopt the Internet for just cents per month. If Lifeline is reformed along these lines, we estimate that five to 15 million unconnected Americans could experience the life-changing opportunity the Internet provides.
In addition to the subsidy change, we outlined other facets of reform that are vital to a successful modernization of the Lifeline program. These include:
Reasonable Minimum Service Standards: EveryoneOn believes that qualifying broadband plans should have a reasonable minimum standard of service. EveryoneOn supports and encourage efforts of widespread participation by as many eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) as possible. Additionally, EveryoneOn believes that any Lifeline offers that are bundled with wireless phones, should come with Wi-Fi and tethering capability.
Easy, Efficient, and Exact Eligibility Verification: EveryoneOn also firmly support easy, efficient, and exact eligibility qualifications for potential qualifiers, including the establishment of a third-party National Eligibility Verifier process. This process will remove the program verification process from the service providers, which has become a barrier for many families in qualifying for the subsidy.
Inclusion of HUD-Assisted Housing Residency As An Eligibility Category: In addition, EveryoneOn supports refinement to the list of federal programs that may be used to validate Lifeline eligibility to include programs that best identify people needing this kind of support. Specifically, living in HUD-assisted housing should be an eligibility qualification.
Creation of a User Advisory Group: Finally, EveryoneOn encourages the FCC to establish a User Advisory Group to help contribute to the discussion, possible expansion, and overall support of the Lifeline program. Members of such a body should include Lifeline-qualified families, non-profit organizations, trusted intermediary organizations, and community members committed to informing low-income Americans about their eligibility.
The Lifeline reform is an important part of ending the digital divide that currently exists in our country. We believe that this reform is important for a simple reason: more choices and more qualifications means more people can get online. This makes sure that that no matter where you live, how much money you make or who your parents, everyone has access to the Internet and the opportunity it provides.