WASHINGTON, D.C. — Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, issued the following statement on the Federal Communications Commission’s announced changes to the Lifeline program:
“High-speed internet is an essential service for Americans seeking to move out of poverty and thrive in the modern economy. Internet access is a key for children to achieve in schools and for adults attending school online or applying for any kind of job. Stubborn disparities in internet access can only be narrowed meaningfully by the FCC – and its announcement today shows that it sees and acknowledges the problem.
We are gratified to hear the Chairman clearly state that the Lifeline program is poised to support high-speed internet broadband services. 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.
We strongly support the announcement of sensible steps to eliminate fraud. 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.
We should not confuse questions about the program’s size with the limited problem of fraud and abuse. According to the FCC’s own data, the Lifeline program has about 10 million participants, and only reaches about 32 percent of eligible households. There are 100 million people who do not subscribe to broadband at home today, and according to the FCC’s research, a predominant reason for that is cost. The Lifeline program is the only program that can address this problem by systematically addressing the cost of modern telecommunications for low-income people. Limiting a program that only reaches one-third of its eligible participants before the FCC can fully assess the changes it announced today to eliminate fraud would seem counterproductive.
We see this as an important step to narrowing the digital divide – but not yet the quantum leap necessary to include all Americans in the new economy.”
Wade Henderson is the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.