Lifeline and Link Up Reform and Modernization

February 23, 2017

More than 35 groups support in full the Lifeline reforms adopted in March 2016 to modernize the program

We, the undersigned, continue to support in full the Lifeline reforms adopted in March 2016 to modernize the program for the digital age. For that reason, we encourage the Commission implement those modernizations swiftly. Specifically, we call on you to reverse the Wireline Competition Bureau’s Order on Reconsideration that has undermined Lifeline’s important goal of bringing affordable communications services to poor people, and to set aside any further efforts to erode Lifeline’s promise. 
Lifeline has brought affordable telephone service to millions of people in poverty. Now it is the only federal program poised to bring broadband to poor families across the U.S. so that they can connect to jobs, complete their homework, and communicate with healthcare providers and emergency services.  
Most policymakers now recognize that home internet access is a necessity for adequate participation in modern society. They see that for those individuals fortunate enough to have it, broadband technology can open up a world of opportunities. Yet major broadband adoption gaps persist between rich and poor people, white people and people of color, rural and urban residents, and along other divides too. 
The lingering narrative that non-adopters simply do not want to go online is dead wrong, based on usage data and survey responses for families living in marginalized communities. As Free Press’ recent report Digital Denied shows, low-income families and people of color lacking home internet access have a very high demand for it. Non-adopters in these demographic groups take extraordinary measures to go online elsewhere, and would overwhelmingly subscribe if home access were more affordable. Affordability is also the most important factor to low-income families that currently have home internet, a population particularly vulnerable to being forced to drop service in the face of financial stress. Furthermore, the data indicates that increasing the affordability of pre-paid broadband services in particular would have a substantial impact on adoption in low-income communities of color.                                             

Just as Lifeline is set to catch up with the 21st century, it is once again under attack from critics using flawed logic. They suggest that Lifeline is unnecessary because poor people would adopt these technologies absent a subsidy, and they retreat to the long-discredited argument that waste, fraud, and abuse are rampant in the program. The dangerous assumption that poor people still may adopt absent a subsidy fails to recognize that, for most poor people, taking on a bill for an essential communications service means forgoing food, healthcare, clothing, school supplies, and other basic necessities that so many take for granted. That point was clearly and correctly settled in the Commission’s Lifeline Modernization order last year. That order also summarized the Commission’s extensive progress towards curbing corporate waste and fraud in the program. 
For these reasons, we respectfully request that the Commission reject any further efforts to undermine Lifeline, swiftly implement the March 2016 Lifeline modernization order, and overturn the Wireline Competition Bureau’s Order on Reconsideration that rescinded Lifeline Broadband Provider designations for nine carriers prepared to offer Lifeline broadband services. 

Sincerely,, AFL-CIO, American Library Association, Appalshop, Inc., Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Center for Media Justice, Center for Rural Strategies, Color Of Change, Common Cause, Common Sense Kids Action, Communications Workers of America, Fight for the Future, FOOTPRINTS INC, Free Press, Generation Justice, Global Action Project, human-I-T, Inclusive Technologies, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Media Mobilizing Project, MetroEast Community Media, Mobile Beacon, Monterey County Office of Education, NAACP, National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Native Public Media, New America's Open Technology Institute, Open MIC (Open Media and Information Companies Initiative), Partners Bridging the Digital Divide, Public Knowledge, SPNN, The Benton Foundation, The Greenlining Institute, United Church of Christ, OC Inc., WinstonNet, Inc.