FCC Chairman proposes free internet service for low-income Americans

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski wants to expand Lifeline Assistance, a program that offers free and discounted telephone service to low-income Americans, to include broadband Internet service.

The Washington Post quotes Genachowski as saying, “The program is outdated, focused on phone service when high-speed Internet has become our vital communications platform.”

The Chairman wants to crack down on fraud and inefficiencies in the current telephone program and use the savings to fund free internet service.

The FCC estimates that the reforms will save approximately $2 billion over the next two years. And that may be more than enough to pay for the free internet service.

According to the proposal, the FCC will establish its own pilot program in conjunction with existing broadband providers and use the savings from the budget reforms to fund the effort. It will also determine how to fold the free internet plan into the existing Lifeline Assistance program to promote internet usage among lower income Americans.

The expanded program is built on the premise that the internet is vital to modern life and that low income Americans who don’t have access to broadband internet capability may be left behind in the future. Therefore, Genachowski noted, the program will be “modernized to meet the needs of low-income Americans in a broadband world.”

Lifeline is a little known, but rapidly growing program mandated by Congress. It offers both discounted landlines and free cell phones, and 250 free minutes per month to low income Americans. According to the latest available information, you qualify for Lifeline is you already participate in one of a number of other government assistance programs, such as Medicaid, SSI, food stamps, Section 9 housing and others, or if your household income falls below between 135-150% of the federal poverty guidelines.

The Lifeline Assistance program is funded by the Universal Service Fund, a line item that appears on each phone bill in America each month. A few cents here and a couple dollars there all add up to billions of dollars that can be spent to make sure everyone gets to participate in the technology of the future.

Some companies are already offering cheap internet to low income Americans. These programs provide high-speed broadband for under $10 a month, and also offer a computer for just $150. Comcast’s program is called Internet Essentials and CenturyLink calls their’s Internet Basics. Furthermore, a public-private partnership of the FCC and cable companies will later this year offer a similar deal, called Connect to Compete, to families who have children on the National Free School Lunch Program.

The Digital Divide is closely as a quickening pace.

Source: Washington Post


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  1. Maryam says

    What happened?”A Note to Google Users on Net Neutrality: The Internet as we know it is fcnaig a serious threat. There’s a debate heating up in Washington, DC on something called “net neutrality” and it’s a debate that’s so important Google is asking you to get involved. We’re asking you to take action to protect Internet freedom.In the next few days, the House of Representatives is going to vote on a bill that would fundamentally alter the Internet. That bill, and one that may come up for a key vote in the Senate in the next few weeks, would give the big phone and cable companies the power to pick and choose what you will be able to see and do on the Internet.Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can’t pay.Creativity, innovation and a free and open marketplace are all at stake in this fight. Please call your representative (202-224-3121) and let your voice be heard.Thanks for your time, your concern and your support.Eric Schmidt” –Summer 2006

  2. Empathy says

    Rick, maybe if you took your head out of your ass long enough to have some empathy you would realize that some people have legitimate problems that prevent them from getting a job. I have a job and I pay all of my bills. My mother is disabled and can no longer work. She lives alone and right now she has no income. Does that mean she should have to be completely cut off from the outside world? We don’t have the extra income lying around to pay the high price of internet for her, we are already paying for the rest of her necessities to survive. I have read of plans to charge $10 a month for internet service for low income individuals. Right now the only program in our area requires that you have school aged kids. I could handle paying the $10/mo for her, but not the $40+ per month the providers around here charge. Maybe you should practice some gratitude for what you have — your internet access, your job and your ability to work. Then take a minute to imagine your life without all of them and hope nothing ever happens to you that will change your life forever.

  3. Zapatos says

    For those of you complaining about a welfare state, let me ask you: can you buy airline tickets over the phone? Can you search for a job in a newspaper anymore? Can you do research for a paper if you live too far away from a library?

    The internet is becoming an integral part of participating in society, and there’s no two ways about it. Providing low-income individuals with access is not giving them a toy, or something pointless – it’s about providing them with a way to actively participate in our culture. You will gain NOTHING by denying poor students, the unemployed, the elderly, or the handicapped with a way to not only interact with society, but to give back to it as well.

  4. Rick says

    Here’s a plan for low income people who already have a gov’t issued phone at no cost to them; you want internet GET A JOB AND PAY FOR IT LIKE THE REST OF US !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • shirley says

      there are some of us who are living off of disability who cant work. this is a blessing for us . I worked from 16 to 57 why should’ nt i deserve to have high speed internet for free .If i could work i would.

  5. Lester says

    A few billion here, a few billion there, next thing you know, you have a complete welfare state. Where does it end?