The Obama Phone program, which provides telephone and texting service to low-income individuals, is going to be expanded to include broadband internet service. However, a few issues will have to be addressed before that happens.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has already taken the first step by voting to expand the program. This action will eventually lead to allowing persons who were eligible for the Lifeline program to have access to broadband internet service.
Such service is important for students attending schools, people seeking and applying to jobs and for obtaining governmental services.
The Lifeline program is funded with a $9.25 assessment of the universal service fee levied on all landline and cell phones. The fee is collected by the service provider and administered by the USAC.
The recent action by the FCC does not address all the users. For instance, it is unknown if the broadband internet service providers will collect a Universal Service Fee to cover the cost of the program. Some experts suggest that the current income from the Universal Service Fee on telephones is adequate to cover the cost of the Obama Broadband program.
With a 3-2 vote, the FCC moved to expand the Lifeline telephone subsidy to broadband without having to spend any additional money. However, all the details have not been addressed.
Nothing will change for those individuals getting the Lifeline Assistance cell phone service. They will get the same service they receive today. The only difference is they may also have access to broadband internet service.
The Lifeline program was initiated during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. It was expanded to include cell phone availability the administration of President George W. Bush, and flourished during the Obama administration. Now, during President Barack Obama final term in office, the program is allowing the low-income members of the population to purchase broadband internet service.
The program has been surrounded by some controversy over the years when it found that certain cell phone providers were enrolling ineligible people into the Lifeline Assistance Obama Phone program
Although some view the FCC vote is viewed as controversial, it is an important vote because 100 million Americans do not have a broadband connection at home. Furthermore, the percentage of poor, less-education segment of the nation’s population that connects to broadband service is far lower than the higher usage in the richer education communities. This is what community leaders refer to as the Digital Divide.
For example, only 54% of households making less than $30,000 a year have home access to high-speed broadband, compared to 88% of households who make more than $75,000 a year.
The action by the FCC adds measures to the program that supporters claim will enhance its accountability. The enhancements include having a third party, instead of the cell phone and internet service providers, decide who is eligible for a subsidy. Providers will also immediately be required to take a “snapshot” once a month of its customers receiving subsidies.
According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC’s recent vote “begins a proceeding to spend rate payer’s money more wisely, to deliver 21st century benefits to deserving recipients and to get to the ahead of the historical issues that have haunted this program’s deficiency.”
According to a story in Wired.com, the action by the FCC is more than getting access to Facebook or Netflix. The article says, “It can mean not having access to educational resources, employment opportunity and social programs that have started to move online.
Angela Siefer, the executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, stated that internet providers wanted more people to get online. “We’re building a nation of more consumers for broadband,” Siefer says. “We’re actually creating new customers for them.”
Numerous groups are refurbishing computers and the needed accessories to make broadband service practical in the home.
A recent FCC news release states, “Lifeline helps makes communications services more affordable for low-income consumers by providing a $9.25 a month subsidy, which is paid from the Universal Service Fee collected on all telephones.”
The item adopted by the FCC proposes and seeks comments on maintaining the same $9.25 subsidy, and seeks to use that money as efficiently and effectively as possible to deliver modern communications services. This would include Internet broadband service.
The Commission is seeking comments on areas that include:
- Adopting minimum service standards for both voice and broadband service.
- Whether broadband should be a required offering of Lifeline providers.
- How to encourage more competition to improve price and service.
- How to encourage more participation by the states.
Building on the 2012 reforms, the item also proposes streamlining and tightening the process of verifying consumer eligibility by taking it out of the hands of providers.
Ideas to accomplish these goals include:
- Establishing a third-party “national verifier,” coordination with other federal needs-based programs, and considering the use of direct subsidies to consumers through vouchers.
- The item also seeks comment on a budget for the program.
- Finally, the FCC action includes an order that makes immediate reforms to reduce waste, fraud and abuse.
These efforts include requiring providers to retain documentation of consumer eligibility, which will improve oversight and audits.
No date has been announced as to when the Broadband service would become available to participants in the Lifeline program.
Nevertheless, those of us at ObamaPhone.com look forward to the day — hopefully in the very near future — when the Digital Divide will become a thing of the past thanks to Obama Broadband.