FCC Unveils Broadband Lifeline Proposal

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday proposed offering broadband subsidies under a 30-year-old program that was created to make basic phone service available for low-income Americans.

The agency is seeking comment on the broadband idea as part of several proposals to reform the Lifeline program, according to an FCC news release. The FCC said it also issued an order that is aimed to cut down on abuse, fraud and waste, which includes a requirement that phone companies retain documentation to show customers are eligible for the $9.25-a-month Lifeline subsidy.

The broadband proposal—largely led by FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn—is intended to bridge the digital divide that still exists between the haves and the have-nots. According to the FCC, roughly 95 percent of households with incomes of at least $150,000 have broadband access, while only 48 percent of those earning less than $25,000 have home service.

“I thank Chairman Wheeler and the Commission for its focus on modernizing the Lifeline program, which will help bring mobile broadband services to low-income citizens,” said Steven Berry, president and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association, a trade association representing wireless providers, in a statement.  “USF support is a huge concern for our members, and it is absolutely essential to facilitating investment, promoting competition and broadening the number of carriers who can offer services through the Lifeline program.”

Others have raised questions about the feasibility of subsidizing broadband through the Lifeline program.

The FCC adopted reforms in early 2012 to crack down on abuse, fraud and waste in the program. Lifeline participation dropped to 12.4 million households by the end of last year, from 18.1 million homes in mid-2012, while disbursements declined to $1.7 billion from $2.2 billion in 2012, according to a representative of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

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