It's another indication that the FCC will treat the Internet as a public utility

By Claire Zillman
May 28, 2015

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission approved net neutrality rules to regulate the broadband Internet as a utility, treating it the same as it does telephone networks.

On Thursday, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is expected to reiterate high speed Internet’s status as a public good when he introduces a plan to ensure that even the poorest Americans have access to broadband Internet.

Wheeler will announce changes to the $1.7 billion subsidy program created by the Reagan administration in 1985 that currently provides low-income Americans with affordable landline telephone service. Twelve million households participate in the program called Lifeline, which was expanded in 2008 to cover the cost of cell phone service. To be eligible for the program, households must have an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty line or must receive Medicaid or food stamp benefits.

The 2008 expansion of Lifeline boosted enrollment, but that increase coincided with a rise in abuse of the program, as some households received more than their one allotted subsidy. Wheeler’s proposal will give recipients a choice between phone service, Internet access, or a combination of both, according to The New York Times.

In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that only 54% of people making less than $30,000 annually had broadband services versus 88% of those earning $75,000 or more.

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