MAG-Net Supports FCC’s Efforts to Close the Digital Divide

The members of the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) applaud the Federal Communications Commission’s announcement today that they plan to modernize the Lifeline program to include broadband. Updating this vital program will ensure that millions of low-income households will finally have an affordable choice for Internet.

Through a blog post this morning, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn outlined reforms to the Lifeline program that will allow eligible families, for the first time, to use the $9.25 monthly Lifeline subsidy to pay for home broadband. It is expected the FCC will vote on these reforms at their March 31st meeting.

“Today’s FCC announcement reflects many of the reforms we advocated for in a modernized Lifeline program including affordability, access, and standards,” said Steven Renderos, Senior Campaign Manager at the Media Action Grassroots Network. “We’d like to thank Commissioner Clyburn who has lead the way in reforming Lifeline that has, for over 30 years, kept our society’s most vulnerable connected to the communications needs of our time.”

The FCC’s announcement comes on the heels of a delegation led by MAG-Net which last week brought 10 delegates from across the country who don’t have Internet access at home. These delegates shared their stories with members of the FCC and Congress and participated in a congressional briefing with Rep. Mark Takano (CA) co-hosted with the National Hispanic Media Coalition. The delegation came to Washington D.C. with one simple request: Help keep us connected.

Millions of low-income families can’t afford Internet access at home, yet depend on it everyday. This includes people like Chivona Roberts from Jackson, Mississippi who spoke directly to her Congressional Representative Bennie Thompson explaining, “For me, a mother trying to finish my college degree while raising two children, having Internet at home isn’t a luxury -- it’s a necessity.” Chivona’s story echoes the experiences of over 5 million households who have school-aged children but no Internet access at home. This “homework gap” is a focus of the FCC’s Lifeline reforms thanks in large part to the leadership of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

Last year MAG-Net launched a campaign to urge the FCC to help close the digital divide by modernizing the Lifeline program. As part of this effort, MAG-Net gathered over 130 stories from those who need Lifeline to access Internet at home. The Utility Reform Network (TURN), which successfully advocated to improve Lifeline in California, is a leader in the MAG-Net Lifeline campaign. “TURN commends the FCC for recognizing and supporting the need to bring broadband access into the lives of low income communities. Society benefits when everybody is connected to jobs, health care, education and emergency services,” said Ana Montes Director of Organizing at TURN. “As more of our lives are directed online, those left behind face dire consequences. Internet connectivity is increasingly necessary for many political, economic, educational and social transactions.”

The Lifeline program was launched in 1985 under President Ronald Reagan to support low-income families having landline telephones at home. In 2005, under George W. Bush, the Lifeline program was expanded to subsidize cell phone service.  Today Lifeline serves 14 million people annually. View factsheets on Lifeline here.

The Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) is a local-to-local advocacy network of over 150 grassroots community organizations working together for media change to end poverty, eliminate racism, and ensure human rights. MAG-Net is hosted by the Center for Media Justice.