Why We Still Need A Lifeline: Ensuring Phone Access for Low- Income Families in the US
Why We Still Need A Lifeline: Ensuring Phone Access for Low- Income Families in the US
Why We Still Need A Lifeline: Ensuring Phone Access for Low- Income Families in the US

    Get Involved Today

    As congressional leaders battle over the looming sequester,
    the need and expense of basic social service programs has been subject of
    national debate. On Capitol Hill, the costs and benefits of such services are
    described in terms of dollars and cents. The Universal Service
    (USF) is no exception from scrutiny and it is the position of Public
    Knowledge that cuts to our communications service safety net, is a mistake that
    would harm millions of Americans.

    Our telephone system is one of that has made America great.
    Its reliability has fostered innovation and growth as well as provided an
    essential public safety net. As mandated by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC is
    required to ensure that all Americans
    have access to affordable communication services. Unlike other federal safety
    net programs USF is subsidized by carriers, not through federal taxes, and
    provides millions of Americans with critical services they might have not otherwise
    had access to.

    The USF provides low-income families with phone service via
    a household subsidy on either one wire-line or mobile phone line. It ensures
    access remains affordable in rural and tribal households by offsetting the higher
    costs of maintaining networks in those areas. Schools and libraries are able to
    receive subsidies for Internet access via the E-rate

    Policy-makers, who cry fiscal wolf and urge cuts to the USF
    program, ignore the fact that although economic recovery is occurring- many
    Americans are still hurting. Economically challenged Americans need that
    connection that Lifeline guarantees to remain connected to employment and
    educational opportunities. Low income Americans, including the elderly on fixed
    incomes also rely on Lifeline to connect to 911 and emergency medical services.
    Protecting the ability of elderly and low income Americans to remain connected
    to community services and the greater economy is a responsibility that should
    be a priority to policy-makers on both sides of the aisle.

    Unfortunately like similar social programs, USF has come
    under recent attack because of reported abuses, giving fodder to opponents who point
    to these instances as proof of government wastefulness. Commissioner Mignon
    Clyburn clarified that the USF does not provide free cell phones to poor, and
    instead is an important benefit to 15 million families who could otherwise not
    afford phone service.

    The Lifeline program has undergone significant reforms
    according to Clyburn. Strides have been taken within the
    Commission to investigate claims of fraud and abuse, reform the eligibility confirmation
    process and improve the overall education about the Lifeline program. Clyburn
    reported over $200 million was saved last year as a result of these reforms,
    with an additional $400 million projected savings over the next.

    As the technology advances, the conversations will only
    become more complicated, and the scrutiny will continue. I applaud policy
    makers like Commissioner Clyburn who, despite the current political climate- remain
    committed to protecting a vital lifeline for so many Americans.