Rep. Doris O. Matsui introduced legislation Sept. 24 to expand the Universal Service Fund's Lifeline Assistance program to low-income broadband adoption. The Federal Communications Commission's current Lifeline Assistance program provides discounted telephone service for low-income Americans living in rural and urban areas.
The Broadband Affordability Act of 2009 would expand the USF Lifeline Assistance program to allow USF funds to be used to offer discounted broadband service.
"It is clear that millions of Americans cannot afford broadband services. In today's economic climate, more and more hardworking Americans simply cannot afford to pay up to $60 a month for broadband services," Matsui said in a statement. "At a time when consumers need the Internet more than ever to seek employment assistance, education [and] health care, and to manage their finances, the Internet plays a vital role in our economy."
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, although an estimated 96 percent of California residences have access to broadband, barely more than half actually subscribe to a broadband service. However, 97 percent of Californians earning $80,000 or more subscribed to dial-up or broadband services.
"To fully close the digital divide we must address the affordability of broadband services for lower-income households," Matsui said. "Although these households may have some options for broadband access, they are underserved if none of these options are affordable."