Lifeline: Tools for Building an Inclusive Society

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You can watch today's FCC Open Meeting and the vote on Lifeline here, beginning at 10:30am EST.

When was the last time you made a doctor appointment, enrolled your children in school, or scheduled an interview for a job without using a telephone? Chances are, you used a telephone to call the doctor and potential employer, and your daughter’s school required you to write down a telephone number for emergency contact. Having access to a telephone has long been a societal requirement to complete basic daily functions. But increasingly, telephone access alone is not sufficient.

Today, people and institutions rely on broadband Internet service for daily activities. For example, schools across the country distribute homework assignments and are beginning to proctor standardized tests online; employers want you to submit a resume electronically; hospitals are moving to electronic records; and doctors use video calls to check up on patients that are home-bound or live too far away from the hospital. Broadband Internet service is now a societal requirement to complete basic daily functions.

However, millions of Americans cannot afford telephone or broadband service. When telephone service became an essential tool to engage in society, our representatives acted to ensure all Americans, including the most vulnerable, could access the service. Since 1985, the Lifeline Program has helped American families struggling economically to pay for basic telephone service that connects them to schools, doctors, emergency services, and jobs. This resulted in 97 percent of Americans being able to access a telephone line.

Policymakers now have the opportunity to add essential broadband Internet service to this critical program.  Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to begin a proceeding on whether to include broadband service in the Lifeline program, as well as the best way to do this. The technical question policymakers will face is: Do we want to support broadband Internet service in the Lifeline program? But the deeper question before them is: Do we want to help build an inclusive society where all can participate and seek opportunity regardless of how much they can afford?

As the political conversation about improving Lifeline to reflect the essential services Americans need in the 21st century unfolds, public interest advocates will be key in helping the FCC and elected representatives answer both the technical and societal questions.

Lifeline has improved and continues to improve our nation. Telephone and broadband service are tools that connect Americans to each other and the world. We all benefit when everyone is able to access the tools that allow them to succeed, reach global markets, and fully participate in our culture, economy, and democracy.

The FCC needs to find solutions and act when Americans cannot access these tools. A commitment to support Lifeline telephone and broadband service is a commitment to the sustainability and success of our nation, and this has no party affiliation. It’s time to improve Lifeline to build a unified society that allows for greater potential and success for all Americans.

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