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FCC Chairman proposes cheaper Internet for low-income households to improve upward mobility

fcc and isps battle over data collection tom wheeler
The concept of Internet for all has proliferated throughout connected society in the past few years. Facebook has launched its Internet.Org program, Google Fiber offers free Internet for an initial install fee, and now the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is jumping on board with the suggestion that high-speed Internet connections be subsidized to provide connections for those who can’t afford them.

According to the New York Times, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed an addition to the organization’s Lifeline program, which was established in 1985 under President Reagan and has been subsidizing phone services for over 30 years. Part of the idea behind the Lifeline program is the idea that phone services are an inherent need in today’s connected society. Phone services were seen as a necessary tool in improving education, employment rates, and socio-economic status. The same argument that technology is essential to improving one’s life is now being made for high-speed Internet.

The cost of the subsidy program currently stands a $1.7 billion. The changes to the program will insure that all Americans have access to affordable “advanced telecommunications services,” though no price was named. The program, as suggested by chairman Wheeler, will offer households a choice of phone services, Internet service, or both. A few years ago critics were quick to call these phone allowances the “Obamaphone,” and now no doubt we will see arguments over “Obama Internet.”

Currently, there are more than 12 million households enrolled in the Lifeline program, and with the U.S average household sitting at 2.58 people, that accounts for a not insignificant portion of the population. Households who are at or below 135 percent of the Federal poverty level qualify for the program.

The addition of Internet to this program would be a huge step towards bridging the gap in the “digital divide,” the concept that there are certain demographics at a disadvantage due to their lack of a digital connection. Indeed, applying for jobs, complete school assignments, and other essential parts of modern life require the Internet. The sweeping changes will also look at curbing fraud, which has been an issue in the past with households receiving more than their allotted benefits.

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