The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) got new commissioners, and one of the first moves by the new leadership is overruling one part of Lifeline, a federal program providing low-income households a $9.25 worth of monthly credit that can be used for paying landline and mobile phone services and as of recently, home broadband internet service.
The move came short after FCC got a new leadership, with Ajit Pai, FCC’s new chairman, announcing the move just a couple of days ago, on February 3. The main reason for the decision, according to Pai, was the fact that the inclusion of the internet subsidy to the program was a “midnight regulation,” passed without a majority of FCC board.
The move will make 9 ISPs to stop offering low-cost broadband plans drawing subsidy from Lifeline to qualified low-income users. The broadband subsidies expansion to Lifeline was approved during 2016 when 3 out of five FCC commissioners voted for it. two voted against it, one of them being the newly elected chairman, Ajit Pai, along with Michael O’Reilly. Interestingly enough, Pai put the effort to close the rising digital divide as one of the main focuses of his term as an FCC chairman.
Previous FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler stated, in defense of the expansion of the program, that “We can recite statistics all we want, but we must never lose sight of the fact that what we’re really talking about is people – unemployed workers who miss out on jobs that are only listed online, students who go to fast-food restaurants to use the Wi-Fi hotspots to do homework, veterans who are unable to apply for their hard-earned benefits, seniors who can’t look up health information when they get sick.”
Further, the founder of one of 9 ISPs included in the Lifeline program, Daniel Neal, stated: I’m most concerned about the children we serve. We partner with school districts — 41 states and the District of Columbia — to provide educational broadband so that poor kids can do their homework,” during his interview with Washington Post.
FCC didn’t just overrule broadband internet subsidy, the commission also started investigating Lifeline for potential frauds, although none of the 9 ISPs involved in the program aren’t under investigation. The move could put 13 million Americans without an affordable broadband internet access, and could just further widen the digital gap Pai promised to close during his term as an FCC chairman.