Today, the FCC voted to reform 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. EveryoneOn weighed in with a letter of support to the FCC last week. The FCC voted 3-2 today to approve changes to the Lifeline program. These include:
- Eligible low-income households will be able to use a $9.25 per month subsidy to purchase standalone broadband service, voice-only service or apply it to bundled voice and broadband service. This includes the phase in of mobile broadband over the next five years and promoting the offering of mobile devices with Wi-Fi and hotspot functionality to help close the “homework gap.”
- Setting minimum standards for fixed broadband based on what the majority of consumers receive (currently 10 Mbps downloads/1 Mbps uploads) and setting a minimum monthly usage allowance standard, starting at 150 GB.
- For mobile broadband service, establishing minimum standards on a phased approach, starting at 500 MB per month of 3G data by Dec. 1, 2016, 1 GB by Dec. 1, 2017, and increasing to 2 GB per month by the end of 2018.
- Providing streamlined, nationwide entry for a new category of providers, called Lifeline Broadband Providers.
- Creating 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.
- Refining the list of federal programs that may be used to validate Lifeline eligibility to include SNAP, SSI, Medicaid, Veterans Pension, HUD Federal Public Housing Assistance and Tribal, along with income-based eligibility.
- Increases to transparency by making data on the program publicly available.
- Setting a Lifeline budget of $2.25 billion.
“We are pleased that the FCC has taken a bold step forward in helping millions of low-income Americans get online,” said Chike Aguh, EveryoneOn’s chief executive officer. “Today’s vote shows a commitment to ending the digital divide on a federal level. We have seen the power a home Internet connection can provide and are excited to have more tools in our toolkit. This is a game-changer for digital inclusion and makes closing the digital divide so much more possible.”
“However, with the Lifeline expansion now put in place, we must turn our eyes to the work that must to be done to connect low-income Americans. This means on-the-ground work by private and public stakeholders to ensure that Americans most in need are aware of and adopt the options available. We look forward to working with already established and new partners to implement innovative solutions in ending the digital divide. It’s a great day for millions of Americans. We are excited to get to work.”