The Federal Communications Commission should coordinate with other federal agencies to inform people who recently lost income due to the COVID-19 outbreak of their eligibility for subsidized broadband service, U.S. lawmakers say in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
“The ongoing pandemic has led to financial hardships for millions of Americans,” U.S. Sens Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Anna Eshoo (D-California) write in a letter signed by 140 other lawmakers. “The FCC's Lifeline program can help struggling families afford basic internet and telephone connectivity at a time when they need it most -- but only if they know about it.”
The lawmakers add that even before the current outbreak, only 7 million people were enrolled in Lifeline, out of 38 million who were eligible. Klobuchar and the others are asking the FCC to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to inform people who recently qualified for Medicaid or food stamps that they are also eligible for broadband subsidies.
FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks tweeted his support for the lawmakers' “passionate leadership and advocacy” on expanding Lifeline subscribership.
“If you're eligible for many federal assistance programs, you're already eligible for #Lifeline,” he tweeted. “So when someone signs up for programs like #SNAP, #Medicaid, and #SSI, it’s just common sense to tell them about #Lifeline. But, right now, federal agencies don’t.”
Separately, on Wednesday, 12 advocacy groups including Consumer Reports, Fight for the Future, Free Press Action and Public Knowledge plan to present Congress with petitions to include funds for phone and internet service in the next stimulus bill.
“Internet and phone access should be affordable public services -- like water and electricity,” one of the petitions states. “We demand that you provide the billions of dollars needed to get and keep people connected to broadband and phone services during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis.”