Since they were established in 1980s, the FCC’s Lifeline and Link Up programs have made telephone service more affordable for low-income consumers. (Lifeline reduces the monthly bill and Link Up reduces the cost of the initial connection.) They have helped the nation achieve its goal of connecting nearly all Americans to telephone service. So with the next big goal facing us – connecting all Americans to broadband – it seemed logical to update these two programs for the broadband era, and the National Broadband Plan recommended doing just that. Recommendation 9.1 says the FCC “should expand Lifeline Assistance and Link-Up America to make broadband more affordable for low-income households.” The Plan also recommends that the evolution start with pilot programs to make sure that the changes will increase broadband adoption in low-income communities. Well, that process begins now with a June 23 roundtable convening to discuss the design of pilot programs. It’s open to the public at FCC headquarters, but if you can’t join us, watch online at http://www.fcc.gov/live, either live or in the archive. And we welcome your comments here.
Why should people care about broadband? Quite simply, the world is undergoing a digital transformation—of the way we learn, get jobs, interact with our government, interact with each other, take care of our health and keep our communities safe.
There are benefits to broadband use and there are consequences for individuals that are left offline. Economists disagree about the size (in dollars) of potential benefits, but broadband access and use has some obvious advantages:
1. Finding a job: In August of this year, there were 2.2 million job postings across top online job sites. According to a recent iLogos study, 94% of Fortune 500 companies—including Wal-Mart and McDonalds—hire employees online.
2. Health care: By 2020, this country is expected to have a shortage of 49,000 to 185,000 physicians and vast swaths of this country already face a shortage of specialists. Broadband-enabled video medical consultation can provide critical care to people in need.
3. Education: Salem-Keizer School District in Oregon re-enrolls more than 50% of dropouts and at-risk students through its online Bridge Program annually. Students who cannot be in school for health, child care, work or other reasons, can continue to learn online.
Further, as a society, we will all bear the costs of 100 million Americans left offline. Broadband adoption—and use—can remove barriers to equal opportunity. We all benefit from potential increases in productivity and fuller employment, more efficient government services enabled through online transactions, and a better-educated citizenry.
The National Broadband Plan sets forth recommendations to help this country achieve universal broadband access, adoption and use. The Plan suggests measures to improve the economics of deploying and upgrading broadband networks, considers specific programs to pull people online, and makes recommendations that will help transform sectors vital to our national purposes. We cannot precisely predict our digital future, but we know it leads to more.