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Broad range of groups support Lifeline for broadband

04 Sep, 2015

A broad range of groups – including civil rights and consumer groups; education, housing, and health care organizations; advocates for children and low-income communities; and telecom companies – supported modernization of the Lifeline low-income subsidy program in comments filed in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposal to update the Lifeline program to include broadband. Modernizing the program, the groups agreed, would help achieve the program’s goal of delivering modern communications services to low-income families, allowing full participation in 21st century life.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) praised Lifeline as “a proven program that targets critical communications services to those with limited means to afford them,” and encouraged the FCC to incentivize consumer service choice and efficient state implementation through grant funding:

Broadband is an essential service in modern life, just as electricity and telephone service were vital to economic and social life during the last century. Broadband provides people access to the tools they need in the 21st century, from closing the homework gap, to accessing educational opportunities, finding work, creating employment opportunities, accessing health care, managing chronic conditions, and so much more.

TheNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) explained that a modernized Lifeline must have high service standards: “The program must expand opportunities, not limit them to only one medium. Program flexibility must also not be provided at the expense of quality, however. The NAACP further urges the Commission to mandate that Lifeline only supports servicers which offer products of sufficient quality to allow households to complete a variety of on-line activities over the course of a monthly payment-cycle.”

TheNational Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) emphasized that Lifeline is a necessary and specialized step toward increasing the broadband adoption rate among marginalized populations:

Lifeline, while not a silver bullet, has the potential to address the digital divide in a significant way as a program that addresses the affordability barrier to adoption and maintenance of communications services. Among low-income households and in communities of color, affordability remains an insurmountable barrier to broadband adoption for many families. Indeed, available data indicates that there is a great deal of overlap between those who do not currently have broadband at home and Lifeline subscribers, leaving Lifeline particularly well-suited to reach a large portion of non-adopting households.

TheNational Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and public interest advocates explained that the expectation – and presumption – among employers, schools, and other health and civic services that people have Internet connections makes broadband adoption a 21st century necessity. “The list of impacts on daily life goes on,” the NCLC writes, “and at the same time as more aspects of modern life move online, the harmful effects of digital exclusion increase.”

Common Cause noted that an updated Lifeline program would help close the digital divide, provide access to political forums for a more transparent political process, strengthen the economy through access to job applications and e-government services, help bridge the Homework Gap, giving all students a better chance for educational success.

Common Sense agreed. As an independent, nonpartisan group that advocates for investment in children, the group explained that modernizing the Lifeline program would shrink the homework gap:

Most teachers assign homework that requires the Internet, and students without it—too often those in low income households—are at risk for falling behind in school. Low-income children are already at risk for lower academic achievement, and lack of home broadband further limits their opportunities to succeed. Thus, the Lifeline program should give highest priority to low-income families with school-aged children, those most likely to be caught in the “homework gap.”

In addition, theAmerican Library Association supported updating the program, writing that “broadband access is essential for full participation in civic life and necessary across education, employment, e-government services, and healthcare. Library professionals witness daily the power of technology, as well as the detrimental impact on individuals and their communities when access is unavailable, inadequate, or unaffordable.”

Housing and health care organizations joined civil rights and consumer groups in support of Lifeline modernization. TheNational Housing Conference (NHC) supported the expansion of the Lifeline subsidy to include home broadband for low-income consumers:

NHC’s research on the digital divide shows that low-income renters especially are stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide. Thirty-seven percent of extremely low-income renters (with incomes below 30 percent of area median income) do not have a computer at home, and 54 percent do not have home Internet access. Among renters with incomes between 31 and 50 percent of area median income (AMI), 29 percent have no home computer and 46 percent have no home Internet access. […] More tools and strategies, like the Lifeline subsidy, that help low-income households access broadband will help address this gap. The FCC should expand the Lifeline program to include broadband.

Comments fromSchools, Health, & Libraries Broadband Coalition praised the FCC’s proposal to update Lifeline, explaining why the FCC cannot wait to modernize the program:

Making broadband Internet access eligible for Lifeline support will open a world of new information and resources for low-income Americans, allowing them to participate as equal members of society. As government agencies, educational institutions, health clinics and other essential services move to cloud-based alternatives, the “Digital Divide” could become even wider if low-income people are disconnected from the Internet. Allowing broadband to be eligible for support is a technology-neutral way to ensure that all consumers have adequate communications services, as is required by Section 1 of the Communications Act.

In addition, telecommunications companies also support expanding Lifeline to include broadband.AT&T offered the FCC a “revamped” Lifeline program designed “to reach its full potential in meeting eligible consumers’ 21st century communications needs.” The design included centralizing the program’s administrative functions and coordinating enrollment processes with other social programs.

As Speed Mattersnoted, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) filed joint comments. The filing made specific recommendations to set minimum speeds of 10/1 Mbps and service requirements, provide reimbursement to Lifeline customers for up-front connection charges, and establish a national eligibility verification system.

“High-speed broadband service is as essential to modern life today as telephone service was in the last century,” CWA President Chris Shelton said in astatement. “The Lifeline program must be updated to break through the digital divide and acknowledge the fundamental reality that Internet access is ‘truly a lifeline to the outside world.’”

Comments to FCC on Lifeline modernization (LCCHR, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC on Lifeline modernization (NAACP, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC on Lifeline modernization (NHMC, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC on Lifeline modernization (NCLC, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC on Lifeline modernization (Common Cause, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC on Lifeline modernization (Common Sense, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC on Lifeline modernization (American Library Association, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC on Lifeline modernization (NHC, Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC on Lifeline modernization (Schools, Health, & Libraries Broadband Coalition , Aug. 31, 2015)

Comments to FCC on Lifeline modernization (AT&T, Aug. 31, 2015)

CWA, AFL-CIO: Modernize Lifeline to include broadband (Speed Matters, Aug. 31, 2015)

CWA: Expanding Lifeline Program Will Help Close Digital Divide (CWA, Aug. 31, 2015)


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