Today, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-06), Member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, along with Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member, Henry Waxman (CA-33) and the Ranking Member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Anna Eshoo (CA-18), introduced legislation to reform and modernize the Universal Service Fund (USF) Lifeline Assistance Program. The Broadband Adoption Act of 2013 would help bridge the digital divide by making in-home broadband services more affordable across the country. The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Diana DeGette (CO-01), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), G.K. Butterfield (NC-01), and Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03).
"In today's digital economy, if you don't have access to the Internet you are simply at a competitive disadvantage. For example, more than 80 percent of available jobs now require online applications," said Congresswoman Matsui. "The Internet is increasingly the economic engine for growth and innovation. The Lifeline program provides a tangible service to lower-income Americans and it is imperative that the Lifeline program 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 creating the next big idea."
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.
The bill also requires the FCC to initiate a series of reforms to the current Lifeline program by including accountability measures, such as requiring the FCC to establish a national eligibility database, to prevent non-duplication and abuse of the program. These stringent measures will ensure only those who qualify can participate in the broadband adoption program, and limit the benefit to only one Lifeline support amount per household. Participating households will choose whether they want to use their Lifeline support for broadband services, mobile, or traditional landline services. 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, Social Security's Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid.
"Like other programs in the Universal Service Fund (USF), the FCC has initiated a series of positive reforms aimed at halting the growth of USF programs, including the High Cost Fund and the Lifeline program. While these are good first steps, more must be done to reform the High Cost Fund and the Lifeline programs. The legislation we are introducing today includes stringent accountability measures to ensure eligible households receive only one Lifeline support amount by establishing a national eligibility database to prevent any duplication," added Matsui.
Nationwide, the number of Lifeline participants over the last eight months has decreased by over five million, from 18.2 million in August to 13.2 million in April, in large part due to current FCC reforms of the Lifeline program. In California, over 1.4 million participate, and of those, nearly 30,000 households participate in Congresswoman Matsui's district in Sacramento. Of those 30,000 Sacramento households, nearly 17,000 are Seniors who are enrolled in Medicaid.
Key Provisions of the Broadband Adoption Act of 2013
- 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.
- 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.