For Immediate Release: March 22, 2015
Pending FCC Decision on Lifeline Program to Open Economic and Educational Opportunities for Nation
Next week, on March 31, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to issue a decision on modernizing the Lifeline program, to provide a modest discount for the poorest Americans to receive both phone and Internet service. Cost is often a barrier preventing people from getting online and it is the reason that more than half of low-income households cancel their service and fall offline. Lifeline has the potential to narrow the gulf between Americans who are able afford the economic, educational, civic and social benefits that high-quality Internet access can bring, and those who cannot–with disparities most prevalent among communities of color, the poor, seniors, and people with less formal education.
Jessica Gonzalez, executive director and general counsel at the National Hispanic Media Coalition, is available for interviews on the Lifeline program. After being laid off from her public school teacher job in 2004, she was a Lifeline recipient for a short time and was able to list a reliable phone number on her resume, enabling her to communicate with potential employers and the law school admissions and financial aid offices—ultimately making it possible for her to become an attorney. She has consulted with the FCC on the program and testified before Congress multiple times on Lifeline’s potential to help more families get online and stay connected.
An ardent supporter of Lifeline for nearly a decade, the National Hispanic Media Coalition has been very active in the Commission’s ongoing modernization process over the past year, filing comments and reply comments in the FCC’s proceeding. Recently, NHMC joined a letter submitted by civil rights groups, public interest advocates, and communications companies urging the FCC to act swiftly to modernize the program and has endorsed many of the proposals laid out in a draft order that the FCC circulated.
Key reforms to the Lifeline before the FCC include proposing minimum service standards and streamlining the process by which consumers and service providers participate in the program. A full half of Latino households and households with incomes less than $30,000 a year lack a high-speed broadband connection, and more than half of seniors and 36 percent of Black households remain disconnected. Without the online tools and resources needed to learn, work, stay connected and thrive in the 21st century, these communities are excluded from the vital opportunities that the Internet brings.
Expansion of the Lifeline program would:
- Narrow the Homework Gap. Seven out of ten teachers now assign homework that requires Internet access and nearly 50 percent of all students say they have been unable to complete a homework assignment because they didn’t have access to the Internet or a computer. Teenagers commonly use a library computer to complete their homework, where there can be long waits for timed access, and McDonald’s or other chains offering free WiFi when the library closes.
- Expand learning opportunities. Students with access to high-speed Internet their junior year of high school perform better on the SAT and apply to a higher and more expansive number of colleges.Students interested in pursuing higher education need the Internet to easily research higher education, and submit applications for admissions, scholarships and financial aid. Overall, 63 percent of public schools don’t have access to broadband speeds needed for digital learning as Common Core tests adopted across the country are moving to administer tests online.
- Provide greater opportunities for American workers. Online ads were posted for an estimated 60 to 70 percent of all job vacancies and the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies make their applications available only online. A full 34 percent of Internet users ages 25 and older conducted job searches online, and unemployed Internet users were more than twice as likely to use the Internet to look for employment as their employed counterparts.An estimated 30 million unemployed Americans relied on library computers and Internet access to conduct job-searches, submit job applications online, and receive job-related training.
- Increase access to medical care and health care information. Patients, particularly the elderly and those who live in rural areas, seek diagnoses and care from specialists online for more accessible and convenient medical care. A U.S. Department of Commerce report found that 35 percent used the Internet for research about health plans or providers and 42 percent went online to find a health diagnosis or treatment.
- Enhance civic participation. Going into the 2012 election, 34 percent of adults had engaged with a candidate or elected official online and 39 percent of American adults took part in some kind of political activity on a social networking site. A 2003 study found that access to the Internet increased the probability of voting by 12 percentand 31 percent of Internet users between the ages of 25 and 44 went online when looking for news.
The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) is a media advocacy and civil rights organization for the advancement of Latinos, working towards a media that is fair and inclusive of Latinos, and towards universal, affordable, and open access to communications.