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Broad consensus supporting Lifeline modernization, key updates

02 Oct, 2015

A broad consensus has formed around key aspects of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to update the Lifeline program. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the AFL-CIO, civil rights groups, public interest and consumer organizations, education advocates and library associations all filed comments at the FCC urging the agency to modernize the low-income subsidy program to support broadband services, quality standards, and to establish a neutral third-party eligibility verifier.

Most broadly, there is general agreement that the FCC must update the 30 year-old program to include modern communications technology. High-speed broadband service is as essential to modern life today as telephone service was in the last century, and low-income households without broadband access are unable to participate fully in 21st century economic, political, and social life.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) and 144 groups that advocate for low-income people, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, educators, and historically disadvantaged people, in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, urged Wheeler to modernize the Lifeline program to include broadband, an update that would promote the affordability of broadband services for low-income households.

“While our work in these diverse communities varies,” the letter read, “each of our organizations can point to the importance of broadband Internet access as a vital tool for our constituents. Yet the digital divide between those who have a broadband Internet connection and those who do not continues to persist. Cost remains a critical barrier.”

“We urge you,” the groups concluded, “to modernize the Lifeline program this year to include broadband and ensure that all people in the U.S. have fair access to modern and essential communications services.”

There was also broad agreement around specific ways the Lifeline program must be updated. For example, many civil rights and educational organizations recommended “functional requirement” quality standards to ensure Lifeline-supported broadband provides sufficient capacity to enable consumers to apply for jobs, access digital health resources and civic materials, and complete academic assignments. The Rural Broadband Policy Group agreed with the CWA/AFL-CIO recommendation that 10Mbps/1Mbps speeds for broadband service -- the same minimum speed required of other universal service programs -- is necessary.

Today, telecommunications companies determine eligibility for Lifeline subsidies. Most organizations, including telecommunications companies agreed that Lifeline reform should establish a national, neutral third-party verifier which would create a more efficient enrollment verification process, protect customer security, and promote competition. And manyorganizations opposed putting any cap on the size of the program, noting that many eligible low-income households do not participate today. Further, Lifeline subsidies are countercyclical -- that is, they  will grow in times of economic downturn when the ranks of the unemployed and the need for Lifeline assistance increases.

This broad consensus should indicate to the FCC that high-speed broadband service is essential for full participation in 21st century life; that too many low-income households cannot afford broadband services, and that the FCC has an obligation -- and statutory authority -- to update the Lifeline program to provide subsidies to assist low-income households in purchasing broadband service.

Reply Comments to FCC supporting Lifeline modernization (CWA, AFL-CIO, Sept. 30, 2015)

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

Letter to Chairman Wheeler in support of Lifeline modernization (The Leadership Conference, Sept. 30, 2015)

Comments to FCC in support of Lifeline modernization (NAACP, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC in support of Lifeline modernization (National Hispanic Media Coalition, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC in support of Lifeline modernization (Rural Broadband Policy Group, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC in support of Lifeline modernization (AT&T,  Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC in support of Lifeline modernization (Frontier Communications,  Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC in support of Lifeline modernization (Common Cause, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC in support of Lifeline modernization (Public Knowledge, Aug. 31, 2015)


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