Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn and Rep. Doris Matsui, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications & Technology, recently joined forces to promote affordable high speed internet service for needy Americans.
They cited a Pew Research study that showed 20% of Americans do not have home internet service. Of even more concern is the fact that low-income Americans remain on the wrong side of the digital divide. One third of households earning $30,000 or less per year do not have internet service. And only 50% are connected when smartphones are included.
How does that compare to the rest of the nation? Not so well. Overall, more than 90% of adults under the age of fifty have internet service at home.
“We need to make sure that low-income Americans, in both urban and rural areas, aren’t missing out on the benefits modern communications, from searching and applying for jobs online, to working from home when a child is sick, to taking classes online, consulting with doctors remotely, or accessing essential government services,” Clyburn and Matsui said. “This is why it is so critical that we have an efficient and effective Lifeline program.”
The Lifeline program lowers the cost of phone service for low income Americans.
Clyburn and Matsui cite several needy citizens who benefited from their free government cell phones. In one case, a woman stranded by Hurricane Sandy used her free government cell phone to call for help. They told another poignant story of homeless shelter resident who was able to call the doctor when her child became ill.
Today one third of Americans (and more than half of low-income Americans) no longer have hardwired telephones in their homes. Instead they rely strictly on cell phones for their communications needs.
Unfortunately, this expansion into wireless was not accompanied by sufficient controls to prevent fraud and abuse.
The FCC is working hard to reduce fraud and abuse in the free government cell phone program. Its crackdown has already saved more than $200 million. Officials hope their reforms can save $2 billion by the end of 2014. In addition to the FCC’s reforms, individual states can enact even tougher requirements.
“Universal broadband is imperative for all Americans, especially as our economy becomes increasingly linked to the Internet,” Clyburn and Matsui noted. “A connected America will promote cost-effective solutions for many of our nation’s challenges and open doors to vulnerable populations seeking greater opportunities.”
How is the FCC moving forward? Its Lifeline Broadband Pilot program is already testing various ways to increase broadband adoption in low-income communities. In fact, they’re testing 14 different strategies in 21 states and Puerto Rico. The results of all 14 test projects will be analyzed and the best solution will be rolled out on a national scale. Instead of offering only free government cell phoes, low income Americans will be given a chance to choose between landline, mobile or broadband service.
Millions of low-income Americans look forward to learning which of the pilot programs proves most successful and eagerly await the roll-out of the national program.