Federal government to modernize low-income broadband Internet access program

By | 01.10.12 | 9:38 am

Pic by Oslo in the Summertime, via Flickr

On Monday, Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski announced changes that would modernize the agency’s Lifeline program to give greater broadband Internet access to low-income Americans.

Lifeline has traditionally provided “discounts on one basic monthly telephone service (wireline or wireless) for qualified subscribers.” While announcing a series of Lifeline reforms, Genachowski said, “Which brings us to the final but perhaps most important reform: beginning the process of modernizing Lifeline from telephone service to broadband. Broadband has gone from being a luxury to a necessity in the 21st century.”

He added that “broadband Internet — wired and wireless — is the most transformative new technology since electricity. It’s changing almost every aspect of our economy and our lives.”

Connect Florida data from a 2011 survey estimates “that approximately 4.1 million adults statewide do not have home broadband service, and adoption varies significantly across socioeconomic lines.”

The survey shows that overall 72 percent of Florida adults have broadband access at home, a number that drops to 56 percent for disabled adults, 61 percent for Hispanics, 60 percent for African-Americans, 41 percent for low-income Floridians, 56 percent for low-income adults with children and 37 percent for low-income minorities with children.

The survey also shows that in Florida 54 percent of those who live in rural areas have broadband access, while 57 percent of the state’s seniors have broadband access.

The Leadership Conference, a civil and human rights coalition, said Monday:

We are gratified to hear the Chairman clearly state that the Lifeline program is poised to support high-speed internet broadband services. The Chairman’s plan to modernize Lifeline to include broadband is an important first step toward achieving this goal, but we are concerned that it puts the program years away from having a notable impact on narrowing the digital divide. The pilot programs the Chairman intends to launch later in the year won’t help the millions of Americans struggling right now to get a leg up in today’s economy.

Colorlines, a media outlet that provides “reporting, analysis, and solutions to today’s racial justice issues,” wrote in December that the FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan indicates that “half of all Latinos in the U.S. don’t have access to broadband Internet at home, while over 40 percent of African Americans are without high-speed Internet in their homes.”

The National Broadband Plan ”provides an array of recommendations to accelerate universal broadband access and adoption” for “rural America; low-income Americans; schools and libraries; hospitals, clinics, doctors, and patients; Americans with disabilities; and Native Americans” to “advance national purposes such as education, health care, and energy efficiency.”

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