While normally reporting on government programs that have to do with low-income families wouldn’t be within the realm of news that we report, our environment containing gadgets, technology, and the like, this particular service fits right in: telephone service. It’s never a bad time to remember that not everyone in our vast human community has the same ability to enjoy the technology a lot of us take for granted, the news of the day centering around this “mobile” world we live in while many across the United States have trouble affording even a landline. What the FCC is doing this week is reforming and modernizing a service by the name of Lifeline, one that aims to keep low-income families connected to jobs, family, and 911 emergency services.
The Federal Communications Commission approved today a full overhaul of its universal service program which over the past 25 years has helped “tens of millions” of low-income American afford a most basic service: the telephone. In 1985 when the program began, 80% of low-income families had phone service – just this past year the rate was 92% due in no small part to the Lifeline project. This program is getting updated rules that address wireless phone service’s increased popularity as well as past perversions of incentives for some carriers.
The changes the FCC is going through with will, as they say, “eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse, saving up to $2 billion over 3 years.” The first and perhaps most important item is creating a National Lifeline Accountability Database which will stop the biggest loss-leader in this program, that being users scamming the program by having multiple accounts on different carriers at the same time. Next, eligibility databases will be created from government data sources, this allowing fully automated verification for consumers and carriers. Stopping Toll Limitations, this being subsidies to carrier for blocking or restricting long-distance services, will take place, and Link Up will be cut everywhere except in Tribal Lands.
That’s an odd point there – Link Up is a set of subsidies that are given to carriers for initial connection charges. This will be cut everywhere except in Tribal Lands, this leading us to believe that landlines must still be much more prevalent in such areas compared to the complete lack of a need for such a program in more mobile-heavy areas.
The biggest and broadest point here is the FCC expanding Lifeline to adopt an express goal for the program which will ensure availability of broadband for all low-income Americans. The cash for this adoption of services will come from “up to $25 million” in savings picked up from reforms to the landline services taking place now. Bundled plans for service will allow combining voice and broadband as well as packages that include optional calling features. Welcome to the connected future, for everybody!