Technology

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from the L.A. Times

Will Lifeline guarantee high-speed Internet access for all?

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Life, liberty and high-speed Internet access for all?

Under the Lifeline program, low-income Americans were guaranteed affordable access to basic phone services for the last 25 years. Soon, the program might also help subsidize their access to high-speed Internet as well.

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission, which manages Lifeline, said it will spend $25 million on a pilot program to examine what it would take to ensure low-income Americans have affordable access to broadband Internet.

"About 32% of the country doesn't have broadband at home and that number is double for low-income families," said Mark Wigfield, a spokesman for the FCC. "Back in 1985 when the Lifeline program first started phone service was considered essential, and it still is, but broadband is taking over."

The announcement of the broadband pilot program was folded into a larger announcement by the FCC that it will overhaul Lifeline in order to address redundancies and waste in the program that the FCC said should result in up to $2 billion in savings over the next three years. This will be welcome news to Americans who help pay for the program via a Universal Service charge of $2.25 or $2.50 that appears each month on their phone bill.

Reaction to the announcement was mixed.

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), a member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, came out in strong support."The establishment of a broadband adoption pilot program will help close our nation’s digital divide, while addressing a key recommendation of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan," she said in a statement.

But Larry Downes, a Senior Adjunct Fellow at the think tank TechFreedom, was less positive. "While we share the goal of making broadband Internet available to all Americans, we're troubled by the Commission’s continued determination to regulate without authority from Congress," he said in a statement.

He added that he thinks it is imprudent to spend money on a pilot before it's clear how much will actually be saved from the reforms.

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-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: Is broadband access for everyone the American way? Credit: Paul Sancya /Associated Press

 
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