Lawmakers, activists join with FCC: Lifeline should include broadband

On June 1, 2015, Congresswoman Matsui (D-Calif.), Senator Murphy (D-Conn.), and Senator Booker (D-N.J.) introduced legislation that would direct the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) to establish a broadband Lifeline program. The Broadband Adoption Act of 2015 would help bridge the digital divide by reducing the economic barriers to high-speed Internet.


In a press release announcing the Broadband Adoption Act, Congresswoman Matsui highlighted the benefits of broadband access, not only for low-income Americans, but for the U.S. economy more broadly:


The Internet is increasingly the economic engine for growth and innovation. The Lifeline program provides a tangible service to lower-income Americans and it is imperative that it be reformed and modernized to account for broadband services. We must ensure lower-income Americans have a greater opportunity to participate in the digital economy, whether it be for workforce training, education, finding a job, or developing the next big idea. This bill puts in place the reform measures needed to modernize the Lifeline program for the 21st Century.


Sen. Murphy noted the multi-faceted importance of a broadband connection, demonstrating the necessity of access to modern communications services:


Whether you’re looking to find a job, enroll in health insurance, shop online, or communicate with your child’s teacher, Internet access today is absolutely essential to economic and social well-being. But the facts state clearly that low-income Americans disproportionately lack access to broadband service and the opportunities that come with it. […] Our Broadband Adoption Act will help put an end to this inequity, and ensure that Lifeline continues to provide the life-changing services it was created to provide.


The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet held a hearing titled “Lifeline: Improving Accountability and Effectiveness” to “examine the FCC’s progress in reforming Lifeline.” In her testimony before the Subcommittee, Executive Vice President & General Counsel of the National Hispanic Media Coalition Jessica Gonzalez explained the unacceptable state of broadband access in America and the immediate measures lawmakers can take to improve it:


Simply put, it is past time that the federal government took serious steps to address the affordability of broadband for low-income families. After all, affordability is the main barrier to broadband adoption for many segments of the population and it is, by a wide margin, the number one reason that families that have previously adopted broadband cancel their service and fall offline. This is a task for which Lifeline, the only government initiative that directly addresses the affordability barrier to adoption of communications services, is particularly well suited.


The legislation and hearing come after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed expanding the Lifeline program to include high-speed Internet. The proposal gained immediate support from human rights, labor, consumer, and other advocacy organizations -- and the support continues to grow. The Communications Workers of America is one of more than 70 organizations supporting the push for greater broadband access.


In addition to lawmakers, activists, and federal regulators, members of the telecommunications industry also support the expansion of the Lifeline program. AT&T’s Senior Executive Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs Jim Coccini -- a member of the Reagan White House -- tied his support of the expansion to the important protections of the social safety net:


People still fall on hard times and they still need safety net programs like Lifeline. But increasingly in today’s society, having a voice line is not enough. The way people find job opportunities today is different than it was back in 1985. We’ve gone from want ads in the newspaper to posting available jobs online. Apps like Facebook and LinkedIn have become important job networking tools. Education and training courses -- even the process of applying for a job -- have all moved online, along with needed services like child care. In short, Internet access has quickly become the more needed Lifeline technology for the 21st century. If we still believe this part of the social safety net was soundly conceived and is still needed today -- and I do -- we need to focus on fixing the program to eliminate abuses and modernizing it to meet today’s needs, all while preserving the essence of the program’s good intentions.

Murphy, Booker, Matsui Introduce Legislation to Modernize Lifeline Assistance Program, Make Available Universal Broadband Adoption (U.S. Senate, June 1, 2015)


Lifeline: Improving Accountability and Effectiveness (U.S. Senate, June 2, 2015)


Testimony of Jessica J. Gonzalez (National Hispanic Media Coalition, June 2, 2015)


FCC: Lifeline to include broadband (Speed Matters, May 30, 2015)

A 21st Century Safety Net (AT&T’s public policy blog, June 1, 2015)