FCC Chairman Proposes extending Phone Subsidy for Poor to Broadband

FCC Chairman Proposes extending Phone Subsidy for Poor to Broadband

A proposal by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission calls for extension of a $1.6 billion program originally intended to make it possible for poor people to afford telephones to now also include Internet connections.

According to the FCC, Tom Wheeler is seeking support of his fellow commissioners for a change to the Lifeline program that is in picture since 1985 and has significantly helped pay for telephone connections. Voting on the issue can be done on June 18 meeting.

The agency said smartphones have become the need of low-income Americans to access the Internet. The lack of devices does not allow them avail benefits of health care, banking and other services.

The FCC needs to understand the potential of mobile connection to deliver affordable broadband, said CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group with members including leading providers AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.

The Universal Service Administrative Co. said that cuts in spending on the Lifeline program to $1.6 billion was announced in 2014, down from $2.2 billion in 2012.

TracFone parent America Movil, Sprint Corp. and AT&T were top recipients under the Lifeline program in 2013. Decline in Lifeline users was also witnessed in 2013 with 14.5 million down from 17.2 billion in the previous year, according to the 2014 FCC report.

“There is a legitimate debate whether the Lifeline program should be abolished or significantly scaled back rather than expanding”, said FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican, in a February blog post.

The program was originally aimed at providing basic phone services, however Wheeler is calling for providing affordable broadband for smartphones too.

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