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Last week, Public Knowledge filed reply comments on the Federal Communications Commission’s recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry entitled, “Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Consumers.” The NPRM & NOI propose to eliminate affordable broadband choices for millions of low-income and vulnerable families that participate in the Lifeline program. They also needlessly impose higher costs for essential connectivity for the poorest veterans, seniors, and families with children. The Commission’s proposals amount to an unprecedented rollback of America’s longstanding commitment to universal service and affordable basic telecommunications services for low-income families.
The NPRM and NOI propose to make non-facilities-based wireless providers ineligible to provide Lifeline-supported service, eliminate the streamlined Lifeline Broadband Provider designation and certification process created by the FCC’s 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order, create a self-enforcing budget cap that could cut off subscribers, and create co-pay requirements and lifetime participation limits that would punish the working poor, the homeless, and America’s most vulnerable families by depriving them of basic access to affordable telecommunications services. The record overwhelmingly rejects each of these proposals, and Public Knowledge opposes the FCC’s efforts to abandon the principles of universal service.
The following can be attributed to Daiquiri Ryan, Policy Fellow at Public Knowledge:
“If adopted, the FCC’s proposals will gut the Lifeline program and widen the digital divide, leaving behind millions of Americans who rely on its services. The FCC’s proposed changes to Lifeline, a 30-year-old program that brings critical communications services to low-income Americans, will leave nearly 70 percent of its current recipients without a provider.
“A hard-cap budget, maximum lifetime benefit limit, and mandatory co-pay requirements are among the out-of-touch proposals by the Commission. Limiting or eliminating Lifeline services for otherwise eligible Americans will disproportionately harm the most vulnerable in our communities, including the elderly, veterans, children, and minorities.
“Lifeline serves as a pathway out of poverty for its recipients, and is the sole means of 21st century communications services for some low-income families. Gutting the Lifeline program contradicts the FCC’s statutory mandate to ensure universal service, and threatens to increase the number of Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide.”
You may view the filing here. You may also view our blog post, “Chairman Pai Plans to Put an End to the U.S. Commitment to Universal Service and Affordability,” for more information.