By Rosa Mendoza, Executive Director, HTTP
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has undertaken a major reform of the Lifeline program – and it’s the biggest, most important, and most transformative reform since the program began in 1985.
In short, the program, which is currently geared to ensure that low-income Americans have access to essential telephone service to connect with family and friends and reach emergency assistance, will now be expanded to include broadband. More precisely, the program will be changed to give consumers more choice in how they use their Lifeline benefits – and we hope and expect that many consumers will decide to use those benefits to help pay for broadband, because broadband is a key to our economic future.
We at HTTP believe that modernizing Lifeline to make broadband more affordable and accessible will promote increased access to and adoption of broadband services, positively impacting many low-income minority families. One of the most significant aspects of our mission is to increase access to and adoption of broadband among low-income Latino families. Without access to broadband, children of those families will struggle to keep up with their more affluent peers. Lifeline reform is a good step toward ending the “homework gap” and preparing young Latinos for the jobs of the 21st century.
Because the program will offer new options, modernizing it will take many different shapes and forms in actual practice. Consumers will be afforded the opportunity to make different choices, but the principal aspect of the reform, which we strongly endorse, is including broadband into the structure of the program and thus offering Federal assistance for the adoption of broadband. We believe that this will provide a strong incentive for new types of companies to participate in the program, which in turn will add to consumers’ choices and help equalize the digital experience of low-income and other Americans. As the digital ecosystem grows, it is crucial to remove any barriers they face to participating in Lifeline, both now and in the future.
Another important reform is offering the option to enroll in Lifeline in conjunction with other vital federal and state assistance programs. In particular, we support the administrative changes the FCC has made to have a government entity become the national verifier of service providers for Lifeline this change will help reduce waste, duplication and fraud in the program, which helps no one and has unfairly opened Lifeline and similar efforts to criticism in the past.
We commend the FCC for this historic and necessary step. Taken together, these changes will make this valuable and important program more effective and efficient in providing support to a vulnerable segment of society and promote the entry of other providers into the program to give consumers the benefits of more competition and choice. Additionally it aligns with a strategic goal of HTTP, which is to increase access to and adoption of broadband services within the Latino community.