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The Washington Post quotes Genachowski as saying, “The program is outdated, focused on phone service when high-speed Internet has become our vital communications platform.”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