CWA praises FCC for moving Lifeline update forward

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) praised the outcome of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote that will continue the process of updating the Lifeline program to include broadband. The 3-2 vote means the FCC will move forward with rulemaking changes, “seeking comment on restructuring the program to better support 21st Century communications while building on existing reforms to continue strengthening protections against waste, fraud and abuse.”

In its statement, CWA continued its support of expanding the Lifeline program and bringing affordable broadband access to all:

Internet access is essential in today’s economy. People need broadband to apply for jobs online, to do homework assignments and to access public services. Yet half of low-income Americans do not have broadband access at home. Today’s action by the FCC – together with other initiatives to provide low-income families access to affordable computers and tablets, relevant online content, and digital literacy training – will help close the broadband gap in this country. Universal, affordable high-speed Internet is essential to provide economic opportunity and avenues for democratic participation for all Americans.

In his statement following the vote, FCC Chairman Wheeler reiterated his commitment to the spirit of the Lifeline program, to making modern communications services available to low-income Americans:

One of this agency’s most fundamental responsibilities is to ensure that all Americans have access to vital communications services. We also have a duty to manage public resources in an effective, efficient manner that advances the public interest. Today’s Lifeline item advances both objectives: exploring new ways to expand access to broadband, while strengthening protections against waste, fraud, and abuse.

Commissioner Clyburn added in her statement a challenge to make an updated Lifeline program a vehicle of economic mobility: “We should focus on making Lifeline part of a pathway out of poverty and make the program so successful and so enabling that recipients no longer need it or any other federal benefit program because they no longer qualify. I challenge us to be as bold and as visionary as those high tech companies we marvel over.”

Focusing on the educational benefits of an updated Lifeline program, Commissioner Rosenworcel offered in her statement a story of students whose school uses online learning tools, but whose families can’t afford high-speed Internet access:

In Cutler Bay, Florida, just south of Miami, parents of young kids who lack broadband at home shuffle into the library. Then they queue up for computers to get their children time online to do their schoolwork. The lines are long, the wait times tough. But the need is real—because there are Miami-Dade county high schools that use digital history textbooks and elementary schools that use a math program that requires online access.

In addition to the CWA and FCC Commissioners, the FCC action received praise from civil rights advocates. Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, commended the FCC for taking the next step toward ensuring universal access to modern communications services:

The Internet can play a crucial role in moving people out of poverty, helping them to access job opportunities, health care, social services, and education. And yet, there are far too many disparities in Internet adoption, particularly among low-income communities and communities of color. By modernizing the Lifeline program, the FCC can bridge this digital divide, and help millions of low-income Americans afford the broadband service they need to succeed in our digital age.

FCC Takes Steps to Modernize and Reform Lifeline for Broadband (FCC, June 18, 2015)

Chairman Wheeler’s Statement (FCC, June 18, 2015)

Commissioner Clyburn’s Statement (FCC, June 18, 2015)

Commissioner Rosenworcel’s Statement (FCC, June 18, 2015)

Civil and Human Rights Coalition Commends FCC for Moving Forward with Lifeline Modernization (The Leadership Conference, June 17, 2015)