Fighting Fraud in Lifeline Program Remains a Priority
There are programs nationwide that will refurbish donated computers and make them available to low-income households, often with some training. But the computer is only part of the problem. To be useful in the 21st century, that computer needs access to the Internet, and lack of access is perpetuating the divide because it limits the usefulness of that computer. While it's true that many wireless devices can provide access to the Internet and some of those devices are reasonably affordable, being able to see a job listing on your cell phone is far different from being able to apply for the job-still something that can't be realistically accomplished on your cell phone.As you might expect, in Washington no good act goes unpunished. The Civil and Human Rights Coalition released a statement complaining that the FCC proposal is moving ahead with the program, including its efforts to find fraud in the Lifeline program, without waiting for further studies. The group called fraud and abuse a limited problem and implied that the FCC shouldn't be putting forth the effort to fight it. But the fact is that in this era of declining budgets, an aggressive stance against fraud is critical to getting the program funded at all and keeping it funded once it's under way. The FCC has already found millions of dollars of fraudulent activity in the Lifeline program, and the FCC chairman is taking the correct stance that fraud must be stopped if the program is to succeed in actually helping the people who need it the most. The best way for people to help raise themselves out of poverty and become contributing members of society-and yes, taxpayers-is to have access to the modern tools necessary to do so. To accomplish this while also cutting the cost of the Lifeline program is a worthy goal.
The problem, unfortunately, is how to accomplish those Internet connections. Cable companies, DSL providers and other broadband services have historically bypassed poor communities and followed the money by connecting affluent users to their systems. The reasons are easy to guess: Those companies likely assume that people in poor communities can't afford Internet service, perhaps that they won't pay their bills and that even if they can afford the minimum, that's all they'll buy-skipping all of those expensive high-speed options. The expansion of Lifeline at least eliminates those excuses for not providing the Internet to the people who may need it the most.