Advocates Urge Increased Broadband Access for Minority Communities

Media 04.25,11

A coalition of national civil rights and labor organizations sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging swift action to broaden the reach of broadband access as an economic imperative for minorities.

The letter was a call to action in response to the FCC’s request for commentary on how to improve access to broadband for low-income, minority, and other unserved and underserved communities.

“One of The Leadership Conference’s top priorities is an economy that works for all,” the letter stated. “And at a time when so many families are hanging by a thread, we are focused on the needs of workers and their families, along with the structural barriers that threaten to keep entire communities from sharing in the country’s economic recovery for generations to come. That is why we support measures to promote a broad-based economic recovery, and the provision of tools, such as broadband access, to take advantage of that recovery.”

The letter emphasizes the importance of expanding the FCC’s Lifeline and Link-Up programs, which provides low-income households with discounts on monthly phone bills and initial installation charges, to also support broadband services. Broadband access plays an important role in all parts of the job pipeline, which is critical in the current job market, where in March 2011, unemployment was 8.8 percent, Black unemployment was 15.5 percent and Latino unemployment was 11.3 percent.

The groups also recommended that the FCC:

  • Expand Lifeline and Link-Up to support broadband services this year;
  • Create a financial set-aside for competitive grants within the Lifeline program;
  • Expand and simplify eligibility rules, create incentives within the program to reach target populations and reduce waste and fraud, and mandate combined outreach (and possibly administration) of this program with other similar programs;
  • Increase efficiency and reduce waste by incorporating into the Lifeline program the latest and best thinking regarding federal benefit programs—particularly by expanding and simplifying eligibility rules, creating incentives within the program to reach target populations and reduce waste and fraud, combining outreach of this program with other similar programs, and redefining “household”;
  • Postpone any consideration of a cap until the reforms proposed in the current proceeding can be implemented; and
  • Take this opportunity to re-evaluate the current distribution of financial support between universal service funds to support low income consumers and programs that support high cost areas.

The letter was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Asian American Justice Center, Communications Workers of America, National Urban League, NAACP, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, National Consumer Law Center on behalf of its low-income clients, National Disability Rights Network, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National Organization for Women Foundation, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.