Last week marked “National Telephone Discount Lifeline Awareness Week.” Each year during this week numerous public interest groups, organizations, and government agencies nationwide raise awareness about the Universal Service Fund’s “Lifeline Program,” which provides low-income families with a discount on telephone service.
Now thirty-years since the program’s inception, there have been an enormous amount of change in how people communicate, much of which is seen in the shift in communications services to the Internet. This shift in services marks an important milestone for Lifeline reform.
Earlier this summer the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a notice requesting public comment on the inclusion of broadband. Under the modernized Lifeline Program, low-income families would be able to use the $9.25 subsidy for access to broadband.
The National Urban League has been a long-standing supporter of increasing broadband adoption among low-income communities, and has argued that a modernized Lifeline Program that includes broadband is a key to increasing adoption among the hardest to reach populations in the communities we serve. Indeed, the Urban League recognizes that access to the Internet is not a luxury but a necessity in the 21st century economy for low-income communities of color to, at a minimum, gain access to employment opportunities, educational resources, and essential government services. In essence, the Internet has become a “lifeline.”
As such, the National Urban League along with the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) and 15 other organizations, to include the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, National Action Network, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, submitted comments to the FCC supporting the Commission’s efforts to reform the program.
The comments submitted advocated for the following:
- Eligible Lifeline subscribers should be able to choose between voice, broadband, or both
- Minimum service requirements be established for high-speed broadband to ensure that Lifeline participants can seamlessly access robust online content;
- The Commission should institute coordinated enrollment with other national public benefit programs (i.e. SNAP) and eliminate eligibility determination by lifeline service providers; and
- National, regional, and local organizations should be leveraged to raise awareness about the Lifeline program and aid in program enrollment.
Currently, the FCC is reviewing the public comments submitted and continuing to receive reply comments from the public, which are due September 30th. Thus, it is likely the Commission could vote on a final order as early as the end of this year. As the Commission continues the process of Lifeline reform, the National Urban League will continue to advocate for a modernized program that economically empowers the communities we serve.
To view the comments of the National Urban League and “Lifeline Supporters,” click here.
To learn more information about the Lifeline program, click here.