NEWS ANALYSIS: The FCC's Universal Service Fund can now be used to bring broadband Internet service to poor and rural communities as a way to narrow the persistent "digital divide" that makes it difficult for poor people to acquire computers and Internet access.
Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has announced a plan that
would expand the Universal Service Fund's
Lifeline program to include broadband communications
. Currently, Lifeline
provides funding for landline telephone service for people who can't afford it
or who otherwise couldn't get phone service because the cost of extending phone
service would be too expensive. Many poor and rural telephone customers depend
on Lifeline for basic calling services.
new plan would extend the Lifeline program to bring broadband Internet access
to those same people. The new program would effectively bring Internet access
to millions of consumers who can't get it now because it costs too much or
because ISPs are reluctant to serve their communities.
new extension to Lifeline would include significant changes to help control
costs to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. It would establish national criteria
for measuring performance, budgeting, and establishing eligibility criteria and
made the announcement at the offices of Third
, a self-described moderate think tank. "Tomorrow, I will circulate
to my fellow Commissioners an order to
reform and modernize the Universal Service Fund's Lifeline program,"
Genachowski said. "This is an opportunity to take another major step
forward in our efforts to modernize our programs for the digital age, and to
make them efficient and fiscally responsible."
said this move implements congressional directives that all consumers,
including low-income consumers, should have access
to telecommunications and information services
. He said the FCC started
reforming the Lifeline program with the release of the National Broadband Plan
in 2010. "Broadband has gone from being a luxury to a necessity in the
21st century," Genachowski said.
pointed out that between the time that the Lifeline program was initiated 20
years ago and now, broadband Internet access has become critical. "It's
essential for finding a job, for example, as job postings have moved online,
and for landing a job, as companies increasingly require basic digital skills.
But one-third of Americans haven't adopted broadband at home and the majority
of low-income Americans are non-adopters."
new plan includes a pilot program that would be used to determine the best
methods for increasing broadband adoption for low-income Americans. It would
also determine how to improve digital literacy so that people could use their
broadband connections when they become available.
expansion of the Lifeline program is critical to reducing what's long been
called the "Digital Divide." Where once the primary cause of the
divide was the inability of poor people to buy computers, it's now the
inability of rural and poor communities to acquire Internet access even if they
can acquire computers.