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FCC Finalizing Plans To Subsidize Internet Access For The Poor

The plan would give a $9.25-a-month broadband subsidy to low-income households.

[Photo: Flickr user reynermedia]

The Federal Communication Commission is in the process of finalizing a plan that would enable more low-income households to get Internet access via a new monthly subsidy, reports the New York Times. Under the proposed plans, low-income households would receive $9.25 a month to help pay for a broadband Internet connection at home.

The move comes at a time when the government has grown increasingly concerned about digital inequality in America. As the Times notes, while 95% of households that earn over $150,000 a year have access to the Internet at home, just 48% of household earning less than $25,000 a year have access at home.

"When we talk about digital equity, we need to remember that we’re talking a key part of the answer to many of our nation’s greatest challenges—issues like income inequality, job creation, economic growth, U.S. competitiveness," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said while talking about the new initiative last month.

The plan to subsidize broadband for the poor is part of an overhaul to Lifeline, a 1985 social services program. Lifeline was created to bring landline phone services to low-income families—as of 2008, mobile phone subsidies were added to the program. The FCC will vote on the addition of broadband to Lifeline on March 31 and, if passed, it will be the first time that home Internet has been included in the program.

Home Internet is increasingly viewed as something that is not a luxury, but a necessity in today’s digital age. As the Times notes, the FCC’s Democratic commissioners have argued vigorously for the addition of broadband subsidies to Lifeline because health services, job searches, and even homework assignments are increasingly found only online. As FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out, 70% of teachers now require students to go online for homework.

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