One of the Federal Communications Commission's biggest goals has been getting all Americans online, and today it's proposing new support for households that can't afford access. According to The New York Times, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing that the FCC begin providing subsidies on internet service to low-income households. The subsidies would come as part of an overhaul to the commission's Lifeline program, which has offered subsidies on phone service for the past 30 years. The program's basis has been that phone service is so critical to daily life that everyone should have it. Now, Wheeler is saying, that's true of broadband, too.
The program could bring more households online
The Lifeline program typically gives households $9.25 per month toward phone service. To qualify, households must have an income of no higher than 135 percent of the poverty line or be part of other federal assistance programs, such as Medicaid. It doesn't appear any of that will be changing, except that households will now be able to apply the Lifeline credit to broadband service instead.
The program's shift toward broadband may be necessary to bring people online. As the Times points out, Pew found that, in 2013, little more than half of people making under $30,000 per year had broadband access. Minorities were also less likely to have access, with only 53 percent of Hispanic respondents having high-speed internet at home.
FCC commissioners will likely vote on the plan during their June 18th meeting. While the Democratic commissioners will likely support the plan, the two Republicans on the commission probably won't like it. Michael O’Rielly, one of those commissioners, tells the Times that he believes Lifeline is "inefficient, costly, and in serious need of review." There have been issues with abuse of Lifeline in the past, and Wheeler's proposal is expected to include additional safeguards to limit those concerns.