Recently the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it would explore new ways to make Internet access more accessible to low-income families. According to a press statement by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, he will be ordering drastic changes to the Lifeline low-income telecommunications connectivity program, which was developed to help low-income Americans pay for telephone connectivity.
But this required either a landline or mobile phone; high-speed Internet, which is now the choice of most Internet users, is more costly.
The FCC will develop a new program to determine how Lifeline can best be expanded to include broadband access. Unlike the Lifeline program, those who qualify receive discounts on monthly telephone charges. There is also the Link Up program, which provides a discount on the cost of commencing telephone service for qualifying low-income households. Lifeline and Link Up are supported by the federal Universal Service Fund (USF). The FCC, with the help of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), administers the USF.
Information technology expert Warren Holyfield, CEO of A-Advantage Networking, Inc., sees the Lifeline program possibly disappearing. “This program will most likely disappear due to broadband digital technology or “Voice over Internet Protocol”. Otherwise known as “V.O.I.P.,” he says. “There might be a plus if a cost savings benefit can actually be identified. The reason is that “V.O.I.P.” or Broadband access has become so inexpensive that a justification for the program might not exist, depending upon which solution a consumer chooses to provide phone service.”
But adds, Holyfield, “This will be significant only if Lifeline can be justified as a genuine savings. What might be more advantageous to the consumer is to look for the best and most economically competitive service provider to realize the best savings and solution.” The current Lifeline program will cost the government an estimated $2 billion over the next few years.