The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is looking to give poor Americans greater access to the Internet via an update to the controversial Lifeline program. The proposal, which would give low-income Americans a $9.25 monthly subsidy for home broadband access, is meant to bridge the technological gap between the haves and the have-nots.
According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, only 48 percent of households with a total income of less than $25,000 per year can afford to have high-speed Internet at home. However, it should come as no shock that the number climbs to 95 percent for American households with yearly incomes of over $150,000 or greater. It’s this “digital divide” that Wheeler wants to bridge.
“More than sixty-four million Americans, however, don’t have to imagine life without an Internet connection; they live on the wrong side of the digital divide,” write Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in a blog post. “We can recite statistics all we want, but we must never lose sight of the fact that what we’re really talking about is people – unemployed workers who miss out on jobs that are only listed online, students who go to fast-food restaurants to use the Wi-Fi hotspots to do homework, veterans who are unable to apply for their hard-earned benefits, seniors who can’t look up health information when they get sick.
“Internet access has become a pre-requisite for full participation in our economy and our society, but nearly one in five Americans is still not benefitting from the opportunities made possible by the most powerful and pervasive platform in history.”
In the Raleigh-Durham area, Time Warner Cable offers a 50Mbps broadband package that costs $34.99 for 12 months, then jumps to a retail cost of $49.99 per month. Stepping up to 100Mbps service cost $44.99 per month for 12 months, then rises to $59.99.
TWC does offer a bargain basement 3Mbps Internet-only package for $14.99 per month, but its speeds don’t meet the definition of broadband as established by the FCC. Back in January 2015, the FCC voted to raise the threshold for broadband classification from 4Mbps to 25Mbps. So 3Mbps wouldn’t even qualify under the FCC’s old definition of broadband.
In order to qualify for the Lifeline program, service providers will have to offer speeds of at least 10Mbps down (still below the FCC’s own broadband mandate) and 1Mbps up, with a minimum monthly cap of 150GB.
Wheeler and Clyborn are confident that this new proposal goes a long way towards empowering lower-income families while at the same time snuffing out the waste and abuse that has plagued the Lifeline program over the past three decades. “This idea that we have to pick between adopting measures that help low-income Americans or cracking down on waste is a false choice. Today’s plan does both.”