Disconnecting the poor: the FCC’s attack on Lifeline

At the top of the sidebar to the right, there’s a link to an online petition being circulated by our friends at Free Press.  Please take a minute, right now, to add your name.

The Trump FCC led by Chairman Ajit Pai is now accepting comments on a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NPRM) that they call Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Consumers.  Of course the proposed new rules, if adopted, would accomplish the exact opposite of that title’s promise.  They would reverse most of the “Lifeline broadband” reforms adopted by the old FCC leadership in 2016, reduce the Lifeline program’s funding, impose new costs and eligibility limits on low income households seeking to use the program, and disrupt existing Lifeline services (including broadband access) for at least two-thirds of current customers by banning their “non-facilities bases” providers from the program.

The text accompanying the Free Press’ petition explains all this in greater detail, so read it there.  You can also learn more from this post at the National Digital Inclusion blog. We won’t repeat it all here.

Disconnecting 325,000 Ohio households 

But Ohioans should be aware of this: More than 300,000 households in Ohio could lose their current Lifeline connections if Pai’s plan goes forward.

As of November 2017, according to data on the FCC website, there were 433,000 Ohio households enrolled in the Lifeline program. About 75% of these households were getting wireless Lifeline service from four “non-facilities based providers”, i.e. companies that operate by reselling bandwidth on the big mobile networks. The two biggest resellers, TracFone and Q Link, accounted for nearly 70% of Ohio Lifeline accounts.

Thanks to the 2016 Lifeline broadband order, almost all these households are now getting some Internet data as part of their Lifeline packages — typically one gigabit of free data per month, in addition to phone and text services. This isn’t “real broadband access”, of course; but along with the low end smartphones these companies now provide, it does give Ohio Lifeline households the opportunity to use social media, email and important apps like MyChart, OhioMeansJobs.com, etc.

If approved, the proposed FCC rules would expel TracFone, Q Link, and all other non-facilities based Lifeline providers from the program, disrupting the phone, text and broadband access of about 325,000 Ohio households. It’s doubtful that most of these households would be able to find equivalent service elsewhere — especially since AT&T will no longer be providing any Lifeline services in most of the state, including the big cities.

If your organization would like to file comments on the proposed new rules, you have until February 21 to do so.  The National Digital Inclusion Alliance has guidelines for submitting comments here.

Meanwhile, please… add your name to the “Leave Lifeline Alone!” petition  now!

And then get your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to do the same.