broadbandA broad group of 61 interest groups has sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler advocating for the FCC to adopt a Lifeline low-income program for broadband this year.  The letter also makes broad recommendations about how that program should be structured. The move comes just a week before the FCC is expected to adopt a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) about a Lifeline broadband program.

“Not only is broadband access essential for individuals and families, it is also critical to increase our national competency in science, technology, engineering and math careers. And yet disparities in broadband adoption continue, depriving historically disadvantaged communities of the very opportunities they need to participate fully in America’s success.”

Lifeline Broadband Guidelines
Groups signing the letter included consumer groups such as the Consumer Federation of America, groups representing senior such as CA Seniors United, groups representing minorities such as NAACP, education advocates such as the American Federation of Teachers, healthcare advocates such as Colorado Telehealth Network and others. In the letter the groups propose five principles they say should guide the FCC’s work to modernize the Lifeline program, including:

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  • The Lifeline program should provide sufficient resources and be designed so that all eligible households can receive the support they need to afford high-quality broadband.
  • The program should support Internet connectivity of sufficient capacity to provide access to digital education and social services, healthcare, applying for jobs, performing job-related functions, doing homework, accessing “diverse and independent media,” reaching out for emergency services and participating in “civic discourse.” The letter points to the 10 Mbps downstream/ 1 Mbps upstream target speed established for the Connect America Fund broadband deployment program as an example of a speed target.
  • Choice and competition. Low-income recipients of Lifeline funding should be able to use any qualified provider and the FCC should “adopt mechanisms that will increase users’ knowledge of their choices.”
  • The Lifeline program should be structured to support continuous innovation. The letter argues, for example, that the program should offer financial incentives to provide above-average services or achieve program objectives such as high participation rates and that states should be offered incentive grants for finding the best ways to centralize eligibility databases, boost enrollment, improve efficiency and reduce fraud.
  • Efficiency, transparency, accountability. The commission should continue enforcement actions. Additionally the letter states that “we hope to see reports on successful carriers and states, data on participant choices, . . . enrollment numbers and more.

A Head Start
When the FCC previewed the Lifeline Broadband NPRM and related documents a few weeks ago, officials noted that public comments would be welcomed, assuming the NPRM was to be adopted. But the interest groups apparently are trying to get a head start on that process.

A complete list of interest groups signing the letter can be found in the letter.

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