Appalshop, Center for Rural Strategies, and National Digital Inclusion Alliance, members of the Rural Broadband Policy Group, commend the Federal Communications Commission for the support of the modernization of the Lifeline program as described by Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn this week.
Lifeline was created during the Reagan administration to help low-income families afford basic landline telephone services. Mobile telephone subsidies were added in 2008. The draft order moves the program into the reality of the 21st century.
The order is a clear win for rural Americans by including broadband/high speed internet access in the program while maintaining support for standalone landlines and mobile telephones. Internet access is critical to finding a job, being successful in school, applying for social services, and obtaining quality health care. The Commission has rightly recognized that all Americans need access to effectively engage in society, which is a step forward to closing the digital divide.
The order will meet the RBPG’s recommended minimum voice service standard, will expand the roster of service providers, and make eligibility determination more transparent. It also will help ensure that Lifeline will be financially sustainable.
53% of rural areas (22 million rural Americans) do not have access to broadband service. Lifeline is one tool that the FCC and Congress have at their disposal to help make broadband an affordable service to rural and low-income Americans. It should not be the only tool for expanding service but is certainly a step in the right direction.