The FCC voted Thursday to extend the Lifeline program to subsidize broadband access to low income people in the U.S., a move that reflects just how important Internet access has become to daily life.
The Lifeline program is a long-existing program designed to help all Americans have telephone service. It was extended to wireless cellphones in an earlier extension, and Thursday's move further broadens it to include broadband access. Some 10 percent of Americans don't have Internet access, and when looking at just rural Americans, it jumps to 39 percent. All told, there are 34 million people in the U.S. without broadband.
Yet Internet access plays an even larger role in our lives than telephones did in before the Internet became a thing. Information, socializing, entertainment, and communications have all swept onto the Internet, leaving those without it at massive disadvantage in life.
The FCC's vote only begins the process; the next step is a public comment period while the specifics of the program are established. In general, however, carriers will be required to establish special plans that will be paid for by a US$9.25 per month subsidy.
Those special plans will certainly be limited compared to the far more expensive plans offered by providers. When it's rolled, however, it will help narrow what has become known as the digital divide. That's a very good thing in my book.
The FCC also voted to impose rules on what carriers can do with our personal information, rules carriers have fought against. They prefer to be free to rifle and pillage our digital lives for profit like Google, Facebook, and other advertising-supported services.
The Daily Dot reported that both votes were 3 to 2, with Democrats joining Chairman Tom Wheeler and Republicans voting against the measures.