Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a huge step towards closing the digital divide. The agency voted to begin modernizing the Lifeline program to connect low-income households to the Internet. Lifeline, established by the Reagan Administration in 1985, originally helped make landline telephone service affordable for low-income households. In 2008, the FCC reformed Lifeline to allow subsidies for mobile telephones. Currently, qualifying households are eligible for a $9.25 subsidy.
According to the Pew Internet Project and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average American bill runs $41-45 per month for broadband, a serious burden for low-income Americans. Internet access is essential to educational achievement. Increasingly, homework, college applications, and school loans require online access. Yet 20% of school-age children have no Internet access at home. That’s a problem.
Internet access is key to economic opportunity, too. Job seekers need the Internet to find work and apply for jobs. No surprise then, that people with computer and Internet access also have higher overall lifetime earnings. Just as important: broadband is about civic inclusion. Voters inform themselves online, organize via social media, and hash out their differences on Facebook and Twitter.
Common Cause supports the FCC’s commitment to work against the negative consequences of remaining unconnected. In voting to modernize Lifeline, Chairman Wheeler said, “Broadband access is essential to find a job: more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 job openings are online. Americans need broadband to keep a job, as companies increasingly require basic digital literacy skills.” We couldn’t agree more. For families without access, civic information, health services, educational resources, and other vital information may be out of reach. This unfairly perpetuates income inequality, and expanding Lifeline would provide 21st century solutions against this cycle.
In a recent panel on broadband affordability, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn emphasized that accessing the Internet should be equal for all Americans, stating, “Broadband needs to be affordable and ubiquitous or it will go from a great equalizer to an engine of inequality” and that the goals of this subsidy are to “encourage every user to ultimately no longer need government programs.” Hear, hear.
Internet access is integral to a robust and democratic America, and Common Cause supports the FCC’s Lifeline initiative.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Media and Democracy