Mailboxes must be overflowing at the Federal Communications Commission. Nearly 200 school district superintendents have written letters urging the government watchdog organization to add high-speed broadband service to the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone program. Another 140 religious, community action, technology and other groups have sent similar letters urging the same change.
This is, of course, a program we fully support because the ObamaNet is growing in importance and is a perfect supplement to the Obama Phone program.
Here’s how the school district leaders worded it in their letters:
“Much of the advantage of education technology lies in student access to information and education tools outside of the classroom. Sadly, many students do not have broadband access at home and cannot complete assignments and supplement their learning outside school. If the nation wants to produce globally competitive graduates with twenty-first-century skills and competencies, this ‘homework gap’ must be addressed.”
Not to be outdone, the community and technology leaders — including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Common Sense Kids Action, and the National Association of Social Workers — said the following in a press release that was issued contemporaneously with the letters:
“The Internet can play a crucial role in moving people out of poverty. And yet, cost remains a critical barrier to internet access for millions of Americans. By modernizing the Lifeline program, the FCC can bridge this digital divide, and help millions of low-income Americans afford the broadband service they need to succeed in our digital age.”
Obama Phones have helped millions of low-income Americans reach out to prospective employers, assisted them in contacting vital medical professionals, allowed them to stay in touch with children and parents, and given them the ability to make emergency phone calls they otherwise may not have been able to make. The Obama Phone program has proven to be one of the most successful programs ever offered by a government that is frequently and unfairly attacked for incompetence.
Why did these groups flood the FCC with these letters now? Back in June of this year, the FCC voted 3-2 in favor of adding high-speed internet service to the Obama Phone program. They also requested public comments from any interested parties. The letters are a well-coordinated effort to influence the FCC’s final decision and the outcome of the Obama Net expansion.
The creation of Obama Net as part of the larger Obama Phone program would be a dream come true for millions of poor Americans who find themselves on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. “Digital Divide”, of course, is the name given to the huge gap between internet usage by America’s wealthiest citizens and its poorest.
The FCC and these education and community leaders are well aware of the fact that eliminating, or at least reducing that divide, is the key to providing more opportunities for low-income Americans. Unless and until that Digital Divide is bridged, America’s poor will get poorer.
And that is not an outcome that benefits anyone.