Tens of Thousands Urge FCC Chairman Pai to Get Serious About the Digital Divide, Stop Restricting Lifeline Services

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March 24, 2017

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Tens of Thousands Urge FCC Chairman Pai to Get Serious About the Digital Divide, Stop Restricting Lifeline Services

WASHINGTON — On Thursday, a coalition of digital rights advocates, racial justice groups and grassroots activists called on Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to make a more genuine effort to provide affordable internet access for low-income communities.

In comments filed as part of an agency proceeding on its Lifeline program, members of Voices for Internet Freedom called on the FCC to reverse a February order revoking the Lifeline status of nine internet-access providers, and to fully implement the Lifeline Modernization Order passed in 2016.

The Voices filing notes that the FCC’s revocation “erodes Lifeline’s promise to bring affordable broadband to low-income consumers.” Voices is urging the Commission to avoid any future effort to undermine Lifeline reforms put in place by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, former Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

Read the Voices for Internet Freedom filing by clicking here.

Under Trump-appointee Chairman Pai, the agency removed Lifeline provider status from nine internet-access providers. In doing so, Pai took away the connections of the 17,500 people one of these providers was already serving, and stalled imminent services from the other eight for low-income communities in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Responding to the public uproar over its action, the agency in early March announced it would seek public comment on the decision.

Free Press has received more than 13,000 comments from people across the country protesting Pai’s attacks on Lifeline and supporting the expansion of the program to broadband. Another 18,000 public comments were filed by Demand Progress, a digital rights group urging the FCC to support Lifeline and close the digital divide for those who need access most.

“Our young-adult daughter, who is struggling to get through school and keep up with health challenges, greatly needs access to broadband,” wrote Free Press member Connie of Portland, Oregon. “Please stop blocking this important resource for low-income folks.”

“I am a paraplegic living in a nursing home. Lifeline is the only affordable way I can communicate to manage my doctors appointments and prescriptions, “ wrote Free Press member Bob of Richmond, Virginia. “It is vital to my livelihood. The FCC must implement the Lifeline Modernization Order now.”

“These public comments are a direct message to Chairman Pai: Reverse your action rescinding Lifeline Broadband Provider designations and implement the improvements to the program,” said Free Press Deputy Director and Senior Counsel Jessica J. González. “The people who desperately need affordable access are suffering the most from Pai’s missteps. If he’s the least bit sincere about connecting poor people and people of color, the chairman must stop undermining his own pledge to bridge the digital divide, and he must commit fully to promoting competition and lowering the steep cost of broadband access.”

“The FCC’s move last year to modernize the Lifeline program in order to expand broadband access was a crucial step in bridging our country’s digital divide, which is imperative to ensuring greater economic justice and more robust democratic participation,” said Demand Progress Communications Director Mark Stanley. “The decision by Chairman Pai to halt expansion of the Lifeline program and prevent companies from providing broadband greatly harms Americans in dire need of internet access. Pai’s action means more Americans will be left without the means to do homework, apply for jobs or access health care and financial services.”

“Efforts to bridge the digital divide for Latinos, people of color and the poor were thwarted by the Wireline Competition Bureau’s Revocation Order, which undermined the only federal program that provides modest support to help people get online,” said National Hispanic Media Coalition Director of Policy and Legal Affairs Carmen Scurato. “Every day of delay causes harm to people from these marginalized communities who need broadband to connect to jobs, complete their homework, access health services and much more. If the Commission’s leadership is committed to expanding broadband access as they say, they need to stop putting up these unnecessary roadblocks and start implementing the Lifeline Modernization Order.”

Voices for Internet Freedom is a national organizing project led by the Center for Media Justice, Free Press, Color Of Change and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

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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.