Twenty-seven members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), have urged the bipartisan leadership of both houses of Congress to consider including at least $1 billion for Lifeline funding in any future coronavirus pandemic relief package “in order to meet the fundamental connectivity needs of tens of millions of Americans.”
“Increased funding would allow for a better reimbursement rate and other support that would secure the levels of service needed for modern applications,” they said. Additional funding would also enable the FCC to meet increased program demand as more Americans face financial hardship during business shutdowns and slowdowns.
The FCC’s Lifeline program is currently funded by carrier contributions set each quarter as a percentage of interstate and international end-user telecom service revenues. In 2019, program spending was a little over $1 billion, so the senators’ proposal would roughly double Lifeline support.
In their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), the senators said, “Currently, the FCC sets a minimum Lifeline service standard for mobile carriers of 1,000 voice minutes and 3 [gigabytes] of data on 3G connections—service plans that resemble 2010, not 2020. The current baseline is woefully insufficient to last a few days for students taking online courses or families using video chat services, let alone for a full month in times of isolation. Moreover, as physicians turn to telehealth to protect patients and ensure continued care, better access is becoming more important for more communities.”
They added, “Further funding would also enable the FCC to expand the choice of eligible broadband providers, at least on a temporary basis during this health crisis and the economic recovery from it. That should mean opening up the program to other broadband providers and also allowing for more mobile hotspot coverage.”
“Finally, Lifeline will need to meet an anticipated surge of demand. With sudden business closures, reduced hours, and new financial pressures, millions more Americans will qualify for assistance and need this vital help. We are concerned that without the additional funding requested above, the Lifeline program does not have the financial resources to equitably support even a moderate but prolonged increase in demand, in response to an economic downturn. The FCC should also have resources necessary to advertise Lifeline, as well as exercise its authority to ensure Lifeline providers aggressively advertise their Lifeline offerings,” they said.
Joining Sen. Blumenthal on the letter were Sens. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), Ron Wyden, (D., Ore.), Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), Gary Peters (D., Mich.), Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), Jack Reed (D., R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.), Cory Booker (D., N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Bernie Sanders, (I., Vt.), Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii), Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), Chris Coons (D., Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Mark Warner (D., Va.), Tim Kaine (D., Va.), and Ben Cardin (D., Md.). —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
MainStory: FederalNews Congress FCC UniversalServiceLifeline Covid19
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