The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed expanding its Lifeline program to help bring Internet service to low-income Americans.
The current program helps people afford phone service, but as technology evolves the ability to communicate can take new forms. Despite the seemingly omnipresent nature of the Internet, about 15 percent of Americans older than 18 don’t use the Internet, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. This means many Americans, including those who can’t afford access, can’t use the internet’s tools to communicate, be it via Facebook or something as seemingly basic as e-mail.
Though virtually all high-income individuals have access to the internet, less than half of households making $25,000 or less are online. The plan seeks minimum speed requirements to insure companies keep up with demand.
Though 12 million people currently use the program and its $9.25 a month reimbursement for phone service, some people might use the subsidy differently. The proposed change in the program might also bring new customers.
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The Lifeline Program has been around since the 1980s and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler argued it is time to welcome the initiative to the 21st century. However, he faces opposition from Republicans, who said the $1.7 billion program is inefficient and wasteful. The program was reformed in 2012 after being began abusing its expansion to cover mobile phone service.
"Simply expanding the program without ensuring its effectiveness or longevity is the wrong approach if we're going to do right by those who pay for the program, and those who depend on it,” said House Energy and Commerce Chairman Republican Fred Upton of Michigan and Republican Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon. They added that the expansion "misses the mark.”