Under Chairman Julius Genachowski, the FCC has been driving hard for the expansion of broadband into rural America. Today it announced cost-saving changes to its Lifeline subsidy program that will help fund a new test program to bring broadband to low-income households. They're aimed primarily at cutting out waste and abuse of the 25-year-old Lifeline program, which helps subsidize the cost of basic telephone service for those who can't otherwise afford it. A new National Lifeline Accountability Database will be created to prevent subsidies from being funneled to multiple phone carriers on behalf of the same individual, while a secondary database will provide a streamlined way to determine any given customer's eligibility. Also changing is the way households are viewed under Lifeline: moving forward, multiple families living at the same address with be considered one single "economic unit," and will be blanket-covered accordingly. The FCC hopes the changes will save $2 billion over the next three years, with $200 million in savings set as the benchmark for 2012.
$25 million will go towards the new Broadband Adoption Pilot Program. Lifeline will help subsidize the cost of internet access itself, but the broadband providers participating in the program will be required to address additional concerns such as the price of the necessary hardware and overall education on digital services. The Broadband Adoption Pilot Program will begin accepting proposals from providers starting this year.