WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and U.S. Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, introduced legislation to reform and modernize the Universal Service Fund (USF) Lifeline Assistance Program – which currently subsidizes basic landline and mobile phone services for low-income Americans – by making subsidies for broadband Internet services also available to eligible households. The Broadband Adoption Act of 2015, which is cosponsored by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), will instruct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a broadband Lifeline Assistance program and will help bridge the digital divide by making in-home online services more affordable across the country.
The introduction of the Broadband Adoption Act comes just days after the FCC announced a new effort to usher the Lifeline Program into the Internet Age. Murphy, Booker, and Matsui praised the FCC’s proposal, and hope that the FCC, which has the authority to update the Lifeline Program on its own, makes subsidized Internet access available to tens of millions low-income Americans.
“Whether you’re looking to find a job, enroll in health insurance, shop online, or communicate with your child’s teacher, Internet access today is absolutely essential to economic and social well-being,” said Murphy. “But the facts state clearly that low-income Americans disproportionately lack access to broadband service and the opportunities that come with it. In Connecticut, thousands of residents in places like Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford have one hand tied behind their back because they lack the ability to pay for an Internet connection. Our Broadband Adoption Act will help put an end to this inequity, and ensure that Lifeline continues to provide the life-changing services it was created to provide.”
"In a world that is more and more interconnected, Internet access has become a necessity for social and economic well-being. We must work to ensure everyone has a chance to access the opportunities this technology provides.” said Sen. Booker. “Our legislation helps make this increasingly important resource more affordable, improving digital access in communities in New Jersey and across the country. Whether through legislation or FCC action, we must act to help bridge the digital divide and level the playing field for all Americans — that's why my colleagues and I are committed to making Internet accessibility for all a priority."
“In today’s digital economy, if you don’t have access to the Internet you are simply at a competitive disadvantage. The Internet is increasingly the economic engine for growth and innovation,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “The Lifeline program provides a tangible service to lower-income Americans and it is imperative that it be reformed and modernized to account for broadband services. We must ensure lower-income Americans have a greater opportunity to participate in the digital economy, whether it be for workforce training, education, finding a job, or developing the next big idea. This bill puts in place the reform measures needed to modernize the Lifeline program for the 21st Century.”
“The Internet is the phone line, shipping lane and classroom of the 21st century,” said Wyden. “Expanding this critical program to include broadband adds a necessary rung to the economic ladder to help low-income Oregonians and Americans across the country reach the middle class.”
Markey said, “In the 21st century, broadband access isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. By updating the Lifeline program to include both telephone service and broadband connections, we ensure Americans have access to affordable broadband that will help them search for a job, complete homework and communicate with family and loved ones. I welcome the FCC’s efforts to reboot the Lifeline program for the Internet age and look forward to working with the Commission and my colleagues to ensure all Americans, regardless of income, can participate in the 21st century economy.”
Blumenthal said, "In today's economy there is no communication service more important to a family's success than access to broadband. Homework, job applications, banking and health care are all done online. Simply put, this bill helps to provide opportunity to families that need it most by connecting them to the critical communications infrastructure of the 21st century."
The FCC has estimated that nearly 100 million Americans still have not adopted broadband Internet services at home. Several prominent studies by Pew and the FCC have strongly suggested that broadband adoption rates in urban and rural communities are largely associated with incomes levels and the high cost of broadband services. While the broadband penetration rate is over 90 percent nationwide among households making over $50,000 a year, that figure drops to 68 percent for homes bringing in $30,000-$50,000 a year, and to less than half in households making under $30,000.
Key Provisions of the Broadband Adoption Act of 2015
• The bill directs the FCC to establish a broadband Lifeline Assistance program that provides low-income Americans living in rural and urban areas with assistance in subscribing to affordable broadband service.
• The proposal would require the FCC, in calculating the amount of support, to routinely study the prevailing market price for service and the prevailing speed adopted by consumers of broadband service.
• The bill is technology neutral to promote competition from broadband service providers under the program.
• The bill allows eligible consumers to choose how they would like their Lifeline support- whether for broadband, mobile, basic telephone services or a bundle of these services. The bill clarifies that eligible households will qualify for only one lifeline support amount for one of those functions, not for multiple purposes.
• The bill requires the FCC to establish a national database to determine consumer eligibility for Lifeline and to prevent duplication.
• The bill encourages the FCC to consider providing a preference to participating broadband service providers that include components involving digital literacy programs as part of their offerings.
• In response to the recent GAO report on Lifeline, the bill requires the FCC to perform annual performance reports of the Lifeline broadband program. It also requires the GAO to conduct another analysis of the Lifeline program one year after the date of enactment of the bill.
• Eligible households must meet federal low-income guidelines or qualify for one of a handful of social service programs including, but not limited to: SNAP, Head Start, WIC, National School Lunch Program, Tribal TANF or Medicaid.