Lifeline is a program established in 1985 during the Reagan administration to ensure that there was an affordable option for the poor to have telephone service, so the choice was not between medicine and phone service or eating and phone service. Lifeline is a subsidy that every person who pays a phone bill supports. Lifeline was designed around the ‘wireline’ phones. The program was available to everyone that met eligibility standards.
Today, the number of wireline phones is approaching extinction according to Time Magazine. Approximately 41% of American homes have only a wireless (cell) phone. Add to that the rapid adoption of the Internet, and a Lifeline discount for voice service is rendered useless.
The FCC led by Chairman Tom Wheeler recognizes that. He proposes to re-examine the Lifeline discount and allow them to be applied by eligible individuals and families who meet the federal poverty standard. Once eligible, they will be able to apply the discount in the way that would benefit them or their families the most. This allows the Lifeline discount to be useful and relevant for 2015 and beyond.
CETF has long had the goal of closing the Digital Divide in California. We believe that a revamped Lifeline program that addresses both phone service (wireline or wireless) and affordable Internet at home would make a tremendous impact on this effort. Further, CETF believes that in order to be most impactful, an Internet Lifeline Inclusion Program should address the 3 primary barriers to broadband adoption: (1) Cost; (2) Relevance; and (3) Digital Literacy. This includes the:
- Establishment of an affordable high-speed Internet service plan for all low-income households offered by and through all broadband providers in the $10/month range.
- Capitalization of an independent fund to support community-based organizations (CBOs), schools and libraries (as “trusted messengers”) to assist in enrolling eligible low-income households and participate in true public-private partnerships.
- Establishment of an oversight advisory body to ensure transparency and accountability with a broad base of stakeholders and community leaders knowledgeable about broadband adoption.
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