FCC chief: Internet subsidies for poor coming in ‘not too distant future’


The Federal Communications Commission will finish up rules in the “not to distant future” to help subsidize Internet service for low-income Americans, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. 

The FCC started work last year to update Lifeline, the program that now only offers subsidies for traditional voice-only phone service. The update has faced resistance from Republicans who point to lingering inefficiencies in the $1.7 billion program. 

{mosads}“The first principle of Lifeline reform is allowing the program to support both fixed and mobile broadband service,” Wheeler said during a speech Wednesday about digital equity. “We will propose having minimum standards of service that Lifeline providers must deliver to receive funds.”

The FCC has not yet defined a minimum standard of service for service providers, like Comcast or Verizon, to join.  

The agency classifies fixed broadband as Internet with a download speed of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps. But Republicans and Internet service providers say that minimum is too high, pointing to other FCC programs that set a minimum standard of 10 Mbps. The FCC has never come up with a baseline for mobile broadband. 

Wheeler also said the FCC would have to make it easier for Internet service providers to join the program and would need to encourage low-income individuals to actually sign up. He also applauded companies like Comcast or Google, which have offered discounted private programs. Wheeler finally pointed to other government efforts — like New York’s plan to connect the city through hotspots or the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) effort to build low-income housing with Internet connections. 

Just Wednesday, Google announced that it was partnering with HUD to bring super fast fiber Internet to nine low-income housing properties in Kansas City, reaching 1,300 families. Google said it would eventually expand the program out to other cities where it deploys fiber. 

A report released Wednesday found that 91 percent of people below the poverty line have some form of Internet access. But that includes 23 percent of low-income homes that only have access on their smartphones. 

Only 7 percent of those living in poverty have ever signed up for discounted home Internet service. Researchers found 40 percent of those who did not have service listed cost as a factor. Other responses included a lack of need, slow speeds, or the use of smartphones instead. 

Tags Broadband Federal Communications Commission Lifeline

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