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FCC to propose monthly broadband subsidy for the poor

Proposal calls for $9.25 monthly subsidy for low-income households, as part of Lifeline overhaul

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday will announce a monthly subsidy for broadband internet access in low-income households, The New York Times reports, in an effort to narrow a digital divide between the rich and poor. The final proposal calls for a $9.25 monthly broadband subsidy for low-income households, and is part of a broader overhaul of the FCC's Lifeline program, which has subsidized phone services for the poor since 1985. The Lifeline overhaul will be put to a vote on March 31st and is expected to be approved by the majority-Democrat FCC.

Expanding broadband has been a priority for FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, with advocates arguing that internet access is now essential for low-income households to keep pace with work and school. A 2013 report from Pew found that barely half of households earning less than $30,000 a year had high-speed internet access, and that minorities are more likely to not have web access at home.

Republicans aren't happy about it

The Lifeline program has come under criticism following reports that its subsidies were being abused. Wheeler's proposal aims to curb future abuse by having a third party vet applicants and ensure compliance. (Applicants were previously vetted by wireless carriers.) The proposal also calls for Lifeline data to be made publicly available.

In a speech last month, Wheeler said that narrowing the digital divide could help address broader national challenges "like income inequality, job creation, economic growth, US competitiveness," though Republican commissioners have already voiced their opposition to his proposal, saying it would exceed the commission's budget and raise prices for all. "Such irresponsible action will balloon a program plagued by waste, fraud and abuse, and result in higher phone bills for every American — including those already struggling in the current economy," Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly wrote in a blog post last week. "In sum, it’s a recipe for disaster, and I can’t and won’t be part of it."