The Federal Communications Commission would be out of business if it had to compete at the whirlwind pace Silicon Valley companies have come to take for granted. It’s taken the FCC far longer to figure out how to subsidize broadband internet than it takes any competent private company to research and develop and manufacture of the average cell phone
Our sources tell us that the government watchdog is finally getting ready to announce Lifeline Internet, a subsidized Internet access program very similar to the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone program. This follows years of seemingly endless proposals, pilot programs, analysis, and debate.
We’re embarrassed to admit that we predicted this program would be announced way back in 2014. We have, however, learned an important lesson: Never underestimate the time it will take the government to accomplish anything. Especially the FCC.
On July 28, 2014 we headlined a story: “A BOLD PREDICTION: Lifeline Broadband will be here by the end of 2014”.
It seemed like a reasonable prediction at the time, but it appears that we took a saw up a tree and cut off the limb we were sitting on. But that didn’t stop us from once again underestimating the FCC on May 4, 2014 when our sister website, FreeGovernmentCellPhones.net said:
CheapInternet.com, our sister website, went out on a limb in the middle of last year and predicted that Lifeline Broadband would be introduced “by the end of 2014.” It now appears that while the editors of CheapInternet.com were off on the timing of the announcement, but they were right on regarding the essentials of program.
We now anticipate a FCC announcement within the next couple months — an announcement that will surely be greeted with cheers by the millions of needy Americans who cannot currently afford the typical monthly rates charged by internet service providers. And although we certainly don’t want to climb out on a limb with the editors of CheapInternet.com, we do agree with them that Lifeline Broadband will probably offer high-speed internet to low-income Americans at very affordable prices.
Well, here we go again. According to the New York Times, the FCC is once again promising to announce progress on Lifeline Internet.
The agency on Tuesday will circulate a final proposal to F.C.C. members to approve a broadband subsidy of $9.25 a month for low-income households, in the government’s boldest effort to date to narrow a technological divide that has emerged between those who have web access and those who do not. While more than 95 percent of households with incomes over $150,000 have high-speed Internet at home, just 48 percent of those making less than $25,000 can afford the service, the F.C.C.’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, has said.
The new plan will be wrapped into the Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone program. It is expected to be approved in a March 31 vote by FCC commissioners.
Unfortunately, the plan it’s getting ready to introduce is a day late and a dollar short. Or perhaps we should say two years late and $50 short.
The Times article stumbled upon the key problem with Lifeline Internet without actually recognizing or acknowledging it.
Any broadband subsidy could substantially reduce monthly Internet fees that average $52.50 in urban areas, but are often purchased as part of more expensive bundles that include television and phone service.
The problem? As its name suggests, the free government cell phone program puts cell phones into the hands of America’s neediest citizens for free. But a $9.25 monthly discount on a $52.50 monthly high-speed broadband bill is meaningless to someone who runs out of grocery money by the middle of the month, or to someone who can’t afford the gasoline to drive to work.
The Times reports that “Democratic commissioners at the F.C.C. have argued that there is an urgent need to update the Lifeline fund for broadband as homework, job searches, and health and other services increasingly move online.”
We couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, we believe this new wrinkle in the free government cell phone program will be an abject failure unless the subsidy brings high-speed broadband prices down to a level that America’s neediest citizens can actually afford.
Too bad that’s not part of the government’s plan.