Should Low-income Americans Get Subsidized Internet? FCC Will Decide

Should Low-income Americans Get Subsidized Internet? FCC Will Decide

San Francisco Chronicle

Marissa Lang | March 28, 2016

She hadn’t meant to cut it so close, but the library was closed and she couldn’t think of where else to go, so one hour before her midterm paper was due, Shayna Smith sat outside her doctor’s office typing furiously.

Smith, 41, is on a fixed income. She’s HIV-positive and relies on dialysis to prevent her kidneys from failing. Not having the Internet at her El Cerrito home used to be the least of her problems.

Until she decided to go back to school.

“When I first got on the Internet about 15 years ago, it was exciting and new, but it didn’t seem like I needed to be connected all the time,” said Smith, who is studying to earn her associate’s degree at Contra Costa College. “But when I went back to school, I realized how fast technology had advanced. For my classes, you can barely do anything without it.”

This week, the Federal Communications Commission will debate whether to expand the agency’s Lifeline program, which was created in 1985 to offer low-income Americans with subsidies for telephone service. If approved, the expansion would allow low-income people to use Lifeline subsidies for Internet service.

Qualifying Americans would receive a $9.25 monthly subsidy for broadband Internet — which, advocates hope, would cut the cost to consumers to about $10 to $20 per month.

More than 60 million Americans, like Smith, don’t have Internet at home. About half say they can’t afford it, according to the Pew Research Center. About 6 percent of California households have no Internet access whatsoever, according to the California Emerging Technology Fund. That’s about 780,000 homes.

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