Broadband Internet service is inching closer to being considered an essential commodity in the United States. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday announced proposed revisions to its low-income assistance program that would help more than 64 million Americans to connect online, via $9.25 in monthly assistance per participant.
The subsidy is part of the FCC’s Lifeline plan, which was established in the 1980s to help low-income Americans gain access to vital means of communication, which at that time meant only phone service. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (pictured above) said that times have changed, however, and Internet connections are needed for all citizens to help with such everyday things as shopping and homework.
More than 64 million Americans don’t have Internet connections. The main reason is the cost, according to Wheeler. Of the low-income consumers who have subscribed to mobile broadband, 44 percent have to had cancel or suspend their services due to financial constraints, Wheeler said. In addition, 48 percent of people whose only access to the Internet is via smartphones have had to cancel or shut off their services temporarily because they couldn’t afford to pay for those services, he said.
"Internet access has become a prerequisite for full participation in our economy and our society, but nearly one in five Americans is still not benefiting from the opportunities made possible by the most powerful and pervasive platform in history," said Wheeler in a statement. "We can do better."
Whether the broadband subsidy is a good idea probably hinges on one’s feelings about government subsidies in general, Farpoint Group Principal Craig Mathias told us.
"It depends on where you sit politically," says Mathias. "If you think Obama Phone" -- the derisive nickname for a federal program that subsidizes providers who supply telephone services to low-income consumers -- "is a bad thing, you probably won’t like this either, even though the subsidy doesn’t amount to much." Still, telecommunications is an essential service and adding data is not a big deal, he said. "There are no technical obstacles to doing this."
More Budget Needed
The FCC proposal aims to close the gap in broadband affordability and modernize the Lifeline program. Internet providers that accept Lifeline customers are required to provide the applicants with download speeds of at least 10 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 1 Mbps. Cellular providers, meanwhile, would give users 500 MB of data at 3G speed.
The updated version of the Lifeline program would carry a budget of $2.25 billion, which would call for a 50 percent increase of the program’s current spending limits. The FCC expects to subsidize about 5 million low-income Americans under the program. Lifeline will work in tandem with the new National Eligibility Verifier, which helps find subscribers based on a maximum income. The five-member FCC is expected to vote on the matter at the end of this month.
Posted: 2016-03-21 @ 7:27am PT
Bull. This is more entitlement. They can go to many hotspots around town to get internet, and 10 dollars is not going to pay for their internet service if they are paying 45 dollars for a metro pcs style phone package. We take core services such as fire, ems, and lea away because we have to balance government budgets but we can keep giving people money for this nonsense. Pay for the food for homeless vets and shelter instead of free internet.