For many American families, having access to the Internet is like having water or electricity in your home; it’s just there. It’s second nature. But for millions, there is no “surfing the web from the comfort of their homes” because they lack the means to be able to afford basic internet service. Some would argue that not having access creates a digital disparity for the financially disadvantaged because many are unable to tap into the useful resources that are available online. Essential tasks that are commonplace like students being able to complete homework or even looking for employment can become difficult to complete without the internet.
Earlier this year, the FCC stepped in to help bridge the digital divide by providing a broadband subsidy for low-income families through reforms made to the Lifeline program. The revised guidelines will allow families that would typically qualify for government=assisted programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to use the subsidy to obtain internet access in eligible households. Funding for the program is provided through fees that are collected through consumers’ wireless and Internet bills (mystery fees I like to call them) with a budget of around $2.25 billion being allotted. Because of documented waste and abuse of the Lifeline program as it exists, the reforms are being met with staunch opposition and growing concerns.
Hot on the heels of the FCC’s Lifeline changes, several providers have ushered in programs aimed at providing Internet access to those who are likely to benefit from the broadband subsidy. Here’s a list of some of the initial adoptees of the plan:
With AT&T’s Access program, those who qualify are able to obtain wireline internet service beginning at 768K up to 10 Mbps depending on where the service is available within the 21 states that are covered. Fees for the service range from $5 monthly to up to $10 monthly depending on the option selected.
Comcast’s Internet Essentials has likely been the most publicized of these affordably-based internet offerings with prices starting at $9.95 for speeds up to 10 Mbps in select states. They have reportedly connected around half a million subscribers through the program thus far and have also extended eligibility to low-income seniors.
CenturyLink has a few Lifeline-based offering for low-income subscribers including Regular and Enhanced Lifeline and Internet Basics. Each of the programs have specific criteria that has to be met for a household to be eligible for the $9.95 monthly price tag.
For more info on Lifeline, go here.