March 8, 2016
Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced a proposal to modernize Lifeline, a Reagan-era subsidy program that low-income Americans can use to purchase telephone service. Wheeler’s proposal would allow Lifeline customers to apply the $9.25 monthly subsidy towards standalone broadband service instead of voice telephony. The FCC plans to vote on the proposal at its March 31 public meeting.
The following quote can be attributed to Joshua Stager, policy counsel for New America’s Open Technology Institute:
Today’s announcement is a welcome step toward closing America’s longstanding digital divide, which has left millions of Americans without Internet access. Chairman Wheeler’s proposal would bring flexibility and common-sense modernization to a program that has successfully helped low-income households get telephone service for 30 years. OTI commends this latest effort to modernize Lifeline, another prudent step in the program’s evolution that began with its creation during the Reagan Administration and continued with an expansion into wireless voice service under George W. Bush.
The consequences of America’s lack of affordable broadband options is vividly apparent in schools across the country, where students’ ability to succeed is increasingly tied to whether they have Internet access at home. Those who don’t are often left behind in their education—an unacceptable “homework gap” that the Commission must close.
In addition to low-income families with school-age children, today’s proposal would affect many other important constituencies. Chairman Wheeler has proposed smart, targeted ways to ensure that Lifeline reforms reach vulnerable populations including the elderly, low-income military veterans, and communities in Indian Country. We applaud the FCC for taking on this critically important issue and we encourage broadband providers and Congress to support the Commission’s continuing efforts to modernize Lifeline and close the digital divide.