Building a Digital Lifeline For America's Families

Article/Op-Ed in the Hill
April 11, 2016

Sarah Morris wrote for the Hill about the modernization of the Lifeline program:

Late last month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to modernize the Lifeline program in the most wide-ranging national effort ever enacted to remove cost barriers to broadband. By doing so, the FCC formally recognized that in the digital age, broadband access is a fundamental tool, rather than a luxury.
While significant, the FCC decision is only one step toward achieving robust broadband adoption for millions of low-income American families. Having consistent, quality access to broadband is critical to resolving the "homework gap" between low-income kids and their more privileged peers. Quality connectivity is no less important for their parents, for whom opportunities for employment and skills training are increasingly migrating online.
Equitable access to quality Internet is becoming more and more fundamental to reducing social inequality in the U.S. However, the most recent data available clearly show that connectivity is still anything but equal. In February 2016, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center published results from the first nationally representative survey of parents with school-age children living below the median U.S. household income, detailing their experiences and history with the Internet and digital technology. (A co-author of this piece, Vikki Katz, was principal investigator for the study.)
The good news is that 94 percent of the 1,191 surveyed families have some kind of Internet access, whether via a broadband or dial-up connection to a computer, or a data plan on a mobile device. But, over half are "under-connected" in some way. Among parents with home Internet access, 52 percent say it is too slow, 26 percent share their computer with too many people, and 20 percent have had interrupted connectivity in the past year due to non-payment. For the 23 percent of surveyed families who only connect through a mobile device — which, in and of itself, is more limited than connecting via a computer — 29 percent have hit their data limits, and 24 percent have had phone service cut off due to non-payment, in the past year.