Public Interest Groups Slam AT&T’s Refusal to Serve Low-Income Americans Through Lifeline Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 30, 2016

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Public Interest Groups Slam AT&T’s Refusal to Serve Low-Income Americans Through Lifeline Program

Today, five diverse public interest groups spoke out about AT&T’s recent decision to opt out of the Lifeline broadband program and urged them to reconsider participating to offer the modest discount that Lifeline provides to low-income families struggling to afford broadband. Despite supporting the inclusion of broadband within the modernized Lifeline program, AT&T has officially filed for forbearance from the Lifeline broadband internet access service requirements. This decision would confine their extension of Lifeline broadband to only very limited regions of its service territory.

The company program cited in their blog post, published just a few hours before the Thanksgiving holiday, ends in 2020 and is only available to SNAP and CA SSI recipients. The application to AT&T’s program, known as “Access,” mandates a credit check and can only be completed online.

“AT&T should be ashamed of themselves. It is completely unacceptable for the largest wired telephone service provider in the country to refuse to participate in the broadband Lifeline Program,” said Jessica J. Gonz├ílez, Executive Vice President and General Counsel at the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “Lifeline is an historic initiative that will help connect millions of Americans to the home and mobile broadband that could serve as their pathway out of poverty with access to greater educational and economic opportunities. AT&T’s decision to opt out of obligations sets a dangerous precedent for other carriers who may also choose to neglect low-income customers.”

“Low-income households of color are three times as likely to be ‘smartphone-dependent’ as their white counterparts, but AT&T’s Access product is not available to mobile broadband users, making it useless for these families,” stated Stephanie Chen, Energy & Telecommunications Policy Director at The Greenlining Institute. “This is another in a long line of actions that AT&T has taken in an effort to avoid its obligations to low-income customers, including low-income customers from communities of color.”

“We are disappointed AT&T did not chart a clear commitment and path to Lifeline participation,” said Cheryl A. Leanza, Policy Advisor at United Church of Christ, OC Inc. “If we are to reach all people in the U.S. with broadband, we need to take advantage of every tool available to increase affordability and quality. We strongly urge all broadband providers to participate in Lifeline as quickly and as robustly as possible.”

“Those of us who are working tirelessly to ensure everyone, regardless of income or geography, has access to affordable, quality internet service are disappointed and hope AT&T reconsiders its decision,” stated Olivia Wein, Staff Attorney at National Consumer Law Center.

“Benton is extremely disappointed with AT&T’s decision and the impact it will have on home broadband adoption for the most vulnerable families in the U.S.,” said Amina Fazlullah, Director of Policy at Benton Foundation: “Teamed with FCC Lifeline program subsidies, AT&T could have been a leader in providing affordable broadband service for qualified, low-income families. We could have seen an incredible rise in broadband adoption by addressing the number one barrier to subscriptions: cost. This is an unfortunate failure to take advantage of a meaningful public-private partnership. We hope AT&T will reconsider its decision.”

Earlier this year, the FCC voted to modernize the Lifeline program by allowing low-income Americans to apply their Lifeline discount to broadband service plans that meet certain minimum standards. The FCC order allowed for existing Lifeline providers to exempt themselves from the broadband obligation.

Read more about the benefits of the Lifeline program here.

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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. Receive real-time updates on Facebook, Twitter @NHMC and Instagram @NHMC_org.

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