FCC considers extending Lifeline to broadband

May 29, 2015

The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comment on extending its Lifeline program to cover broadband access. The program has covered phone service for low-income individuals since 1985.

Commissioner Tom Wheeler pointed out that only 48% of households making less than $25,000 per year have access to broadband. The FCC is seeking comment on minimum service standards, the administration of eligibility, boosting competition, and cutting waste and abuse. Reforms adopted in 2012 required documented proof of subscriber eligibility, limiting Lifeline subscriptions to one line per household, and independent audits of carriers. Additional reforms would extend record retention requirements and increase program transparency.

Brendan Sasso in National Journal reports that House and Senate Republicans have blasted the plan, warning of waste. Sasso notes that the broadband extension wouldn’t necessarily increase the size of the $1.7 billion program but would allow low-income subscribers to direct part of the funds they receive to Internet access.

According to Sasso, “Rep. Fred Upton, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Greg Walden, the chairman of the panel’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, acknowledged that Internet access ‘creates countless opportunities for individuals and small businesses and is a welcome generator of economic growth and jobs,’ and said they would support reforming FCC programs to ‘meet the communications and technology environment of the 21st century.’”

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