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Lifeline Reform: A Connect Ohio Policy Blog
Timely with the release of last week’s blog, the Pew Research Center released a new report on April 20 entitled, “The numbers behind the broadband ‘homework gap.’” Pew estimates that nationwide, 5 million households with children do not subscribe to broadband at home, and nearly one-third of households with school-aged children and an income less than $50,000 do not subscribe. In her statement on the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate Modernization Order in which she discussed the homework gap, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel urged the FCC to also update the Lifeline Program, as it had the E-Rate program, to address issues with home access.
The FCC’s Lifeline program provides a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers. In order to participate in the program, an individual must have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines, or participate in at least one of the assistance programs listed on the site, including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP benefits/ “food stamps”), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and others. Today, the program supports telephone access for 14 million low-income households across the U.S.
I was first introduced to the Lifeline program while serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Habitat for Humanity – Greater Columbus (now MidOhio). At the time, I was overseeing an initiative in which low-income families were eligible to receive free in-home computers and Internet via DSL or dial-up service. In order to qualify, families needed to have a home phone line and many were eligible for discounted service through the Lifeline program.
Families across the state, beyond the participants in that initiative, have benefitted from the Lifeline Program. In 2013, Ohio drew $89 million of the $1.6 billion program in dial-tone benefits to our state. This equates to about 5.5% of the Lifeline Program, which is more than the 3.7% Ohio should receive through Lifeline if it were distributed according to U.S. population (Ohio’s population is approximately 3.6% of the total U.S. population). As the FCC starts to shift Lifeline to broadband, Ohio could significantly benefit if it manages that shift as well as it has handled Lifeline for voice services.
Connect Ohio, with support from Connected Nation, will be monitoring Lifeline reform and providing timely analysis and insight into this program. To ensure you receive the latest updates on this and other federal broadband policy reforms, please follow us on Twitter and Facebook!