FCC takes next step for digital equality

We’re almost there! The FCC this week released a draft order to update the Lifeline program to include broadband. The FCC’s Lifeline program currently provides subsidies to low-income households for voice service. Speed Matters and CWA have long advocated for this change as an important step toward fulfilling the FCC’s century-old commitment to universal service.

FCC Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn announced the draft order in a blog post that focused on the individual costs of the digital divide: “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.”

To help close the digital divide, the draft order, among other things:

  • Establishes a neutral third-party entity for lifeline enrollment

  • Allows Lifeline support for mobile or landline broadband service

  • Sets 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up as a minimum speed for a broadband subsidy

“Broadband is essential to full participation in today’s economy and society. Students need home broadband to do their homework, and job applications are now online,” the Communications Workers of America said in a statement applauding the order. “Updating the Lifeline program to include broadband will help close the digital divide and foster digital equality.”

FCC action comes in response to a campaign by CWA and a broad coalition of public interest and civil rights groups. Modernizing the Lifeline program will help achieve the program’s goal of delivering modern communications services to low-income families, allowing full participation in 21st century life.

The FCC will vote on the order will take place on March 31.

Broadband: A Lifeline for the 21st Century (FCC, Mar. 8, 2016)


Chairman Wheeler & Commissioner Clyburn Propose Rules to Modernize Lifeline Program to Provide Affordable Broadband for Low-Income Americans (FCC, Mar. 8, 2016)


CWA Applauds FCC Action to Modernize Lifeline for Broadband (CWA, Mar. 8, 2016)


Expand Lifeline to include broadband (Speed Matters, Mar. 16, 2015)


CWA, AFL-CIO to FCC: Lifeline program must include broadband services (Sept. 30, 2015)


Lifeline advocates offer five principles for a quality broadband program (June 11, 2015)