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FCC Broadband Plan Draws Critics

In a statement yesterday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the expansion of the Universal Service Fund's Lifeline program to include broadband internet access for low-income, disadvantaged, and rural Americans. However, in response, the Civil and Human Rights Coalition expressed concern with the program's timeline and cost-controlling measures.

Previously, the program only provided these groups with discounted phone service, either wired or wireless. In the statement, Genachowski indicated that broadband "has gone from being a luxury to a necessity in the 21st century," noting that internet access and digital literacy skills have become critical for job seekers.

Along with a number of reforms aimed at increasing the program's efficiency, Genachowski's new order would also set a budget for Lifeline to help "eliminate unnecessary spending" and root out waste.  

"We strongly support the announcement of sensible steps to eliminate fraud," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights as part of the Civil and Human Rights Coalition statement. "However, the Chairman also announced he is moving ahead with a preemptive budget controlling costs for the program, even though the agency is still evaluating how the program could best be updated for modern technology and needs."

According to FCC data, the Lifeline program has about 10 million participants, and only reaches about 32 percent of eligible households. There are 100 million people in the United States who do not subscribe to broadband at home.

"We are gratified to hear the Chairman clearly state that the Lifeline program is poised to support high-speed internet broadband services," said Henderson. "The Chairman’s plan to modernize Lifeline to include broadband is an important first step toward achieving this goal, but we are concerned that it puts the program years away from having a notable impact on narrowing the digital divide. The pilot programs the Chairman intends to launch later in the year won’t help the millions of Americans struggling right now to get a leg up in today’s economy." 

About the Author

Stephen Noonoo is an education technology journalist based in Los Angeles. He is on Twitter @stephenoonoo.