The Federal Communications Commission has voted in favor of expanding the Lifeline subsidized phone program so that low-income families can get optional credit for broadband access. This policy change will allow participants to use the credit on broadband internet services in addition to phone plans.
The subsidy is valued at $9.25, according to David McCabe of The Hill.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said:
…the sad reality is that millions of our citizens are foreclosed from opportunities, trapped in digital darkness, and stranded on the wrong side of the affordability divide. … The time is now to shed that 20th century Lifeline voice-only product and adopt a 21st century model.
Proponents of the bill called attention to the fact that many teachers (estimated at about 7 out of 10) are assigning homework that requires internet access to complete. 5 million of the 29 million families in the US that have school-aged children don’t have broadband access at home, writess Kate Cox of the Consumerist. In a study done by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, the Family Online Safety Institute, and My College Options, 50% of students reported that they hadn’t finished an assignment because they couldn’t access the internet.
The FCC’s Jessica Rosenworcel writes in the Huffington Post that this is the Homework Gap. She points to it as a reason that children from low-income households fall behind in their education, which further contributes to the cycle of poverty. Students who haven’t developed technology skills as well as their peers will fall behind in the job market of the future, she posits.
For three decades, this program has helped the neediest among us connect: connect to family, jobs, health care, and help, when emergency strikes.
School-aged kids without broadband access at home are not only unable to complete their homework, but they enter the job market with a serious handicap.
The Lifeline program began in 1985 under President Reagan, writes Rebecca R. Ruiz of the New York Times, and has become an increasingly bipartisan issue. The vote was split 3-2 along party lines, with Democrats in favor.
The proposal also includes strategies for limiting wastefulness and reducing fraud, which Republicans have stated is a priority before they will support expansion of the program. Both parties have spoken of an unwillingness to compromise among the council’s five members.