Losing Lifeline

Losing Lifeline

Sacramento – Lifeline is the only federal program designed to make phone and broadband services more affordable. 

Lifeline was exclusively implemented to assist low income households, including thousands in the inland region. by providing a $9.25 monthly subsidy for service. So, it should come as no surprise that Lifeline service is now among the many low-income programs targeted by the Trump administration and criticized for fraud and waste. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced plans to scale back the $2.25 billion annual Lifeline program by cutting back in three areas. Firstly, the agency has proposed to only support facilities-based providers, and possibly prevent resellers (companies who provide service, but do not own their own networks) from offering Lifeline plans. If implemented, those on Tribal Lands would no longer receive enhanced lifeline support of an extra $25 every month through resellers. 

Next, the FCC is considering the implementation of a national Lifeline spending cap. And finally, the agency may no longer allow national approvals of qualified Lifeline providers. 

Taken collectively, Lifeline advocates believe the FCC changes will make it harder for low-income Americans to have access to broadband in their homes. At a time when the gap between the information rich and the information poor continues to widen and employers consider digital skills more important than ever, Lifeline advocates believe the proposed reforms may ultimately have a detrimental impact on the economy. 

When the Lifeline program was implemented in 1985, its purpose was to make phone service affordable for low income residents. Last year, it was expanded to include broadband services.

The change signaled the importance placed by the Obama Administration, on getting all Americans online in a digitally connected world. 

According to the Pew Research Center, America has an enormous broadband subscription gap, and the 2016 Lifeline program expansion helped addresses precisely that gap. In 2015, nearly one in four or a total of 73.5 million Americans lived in low subscription neighborhoods, where fewer than 40 percent of households subscribed to in-home broadband service.

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