Benton Supports Lawmakers' Letter to FCC about Lifeline Program

Congressman Gregory W. Meeks and Congresswoman Gwen S. Moore led a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai expressing concern with recent changes to the Lifeline Program, which provides a modest monthly subsidy of $9.25 to connect low-income Americans to phone and internet service. Representatives Meeks and Moore issued the following statement regarding the letter, which was signed by 56 other House Democrats and supported by groups such as the Benton Foundation, the NAACP, Communications Workers of America, Public Knowledge, and many others (listed below):

“In our modern, highly technological and interconnected world, internet and phone service are all but required to lead a functional life. Many Americans still don’t have phone and internet access, rendering it nearly impossible to complete everyday tasks, such as finishing assigned schoolwork or conducting a phone interview,” Congressman Gregory W. Meeks said. “The digital divide—which Chairman Pai promised he would seek to minimize—persists today and the Lifeline Program is critical in helping minimize it. Yet, Chairman Pai’s proposed changes would practically decimate the Lifeline program, upon which millions of Americans rely. Indeed, this is nothing more than a poorly disguised attack on our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. I thank Congresswoman Moore and the cosigners and endorsing organizations of this letter for partnering with me to stand against Chairman Pai’s efforts to widen the digital divide.”

“Chairman Pai’s proposal to cap Lifeline is a direct assault on low-income who depend on phone and internet services as an essential component in their everyday lives,” said Congresswoman Gwen S. Moore. “These services not only save lives during emergencies, as we saw during this year’s devastating hurricane season, but they are also vital when applying for jobs, attending school, scheduling doctors’ appointments, and maintaining finances. In 2016, the United Nations declared internet access a human right, so why, in 2017, is Chairman Pai trying to strip this right away? I will not sit by and watch as Chairman Pai allows the elderly, disabled, veterans, low income individuals, and communities of color to be placed on the wrong side of the digital divide.”


“The Lifeline Program is the only government program dedicated to bringing telephone and internet service to low-income Americans; people who are disproportionately of color, seniors, veterans, and those with disabilities.  It is because of Lifeline that more American workers, especially those who may be unemployed, have access to job openings, and more seniors can call their loved ones, neighbors, or emergency services in the event of a mishap,” said Ms. Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “Lifeline has enabled Veterans to access the health, educational, and financial benefits to which they are entitled and rural residents to have access to health care and emergency services.  It is because of Lifeline that parents can stay in touch with their children’s schools and teachers.  The FCC should be ashamed and embarrassed that rather than enhancing and encouraging Lifeline participation and success, it is taking steps to decimate the program. 

“It is alarming that if adopted by the FCC, these proposals would remove providers of affordable telecommunications service for nearly 70 percent of the low-income households who rely on Lifeline to connect to our modern communications network,” said National Consumer Law Center attorney Olivia Wein. “Instead, we should keep and strengthen recent reforms that modernized the Lifeline program to bridge the digital divide and allow millions of low-income families to partake in daily activities that many of us take for granted, such as using the internet for work, homework or to communicate with doctors and teachers.”

“Chairman Pai’s proposal will destabilize and irreparably harm the Lifeline program, making it nearly impossible for our nation’s poorest families to get access and stay connected to phone and Internet service,” said Carmen Scurato, Director of Policy and Legal Affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “We need to work together to ensure that we bridge the digital divide so that traditionally marginalized communities can participate in our economy, democracy, and society - and gutting the Lifeline program is not the answer.”  

“It’s hard to underestimate the damage Chairman Pai’s plan to undercut Lifeline will have on low-income families and people of color,” said Free Press Action Fund Deputy Director and Senior Counsel Jessica J. González. “This cruel action benefits no one and is in defiance of the spirit of the program, which was designed to give some of the most vulnerable in our communities a chance to connect with others and find new opportunities. That an FCC chairman is even able to float such a ruthless proposal speaks poorly to the state of our politics today. Pai should be in government to help, not hurt, people. We’re thankful for Representatives Gregory Meeks and Gwen S. Moore’s efforts to call attention to this injustice and are happy that so many others have followed their lead to demand far better from this FCC chairman.”

"If ultimately adopted, Chairman Pai's proposals would roll back the United States' longstanding commitment that basic telecommunications services should be universally available to and affordable for all Americans. The Chairman's plan would strand millions of low-income families, veterans, and children without affordable communications services, and drastically curtail their access to the education, job training, and basic services that increasingly require an internet connection,” said Public Knowledge. “Rather than moving forward with this plan that would harm the most vulnerable, the FCC should refocus its efforts to promote affordable, competitive broadband for all Americans, and ensure that the Lifeline program remains a core component of our efforts to close the digital divide."

"In reviewing FCC Chairman Pai’s Lifeline proposals, we can only conclude that his aim is to starve this vital program of service providers, participants, subsidies, and funding. The end result will be a drastically smaller, less effective program – and a widened chasm between those who can afford access to essential telecommunications services and those who cannot,” said Adrianne B. Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Foundation. “This makes a mockery of U.S. telecommunications law and America’s historical commitment to ensure that affordable communications infrastructure and services reach everyone no matter where they live. Benton welcomes Congress’ reminder to the FCC about what it’s true mission is.

Congressional Cosigners (56)Representatives Michael E. Capuano, Ro Khanna, Jerrold Nadler, Keith Ellison, G.K. Butterfield, Yvette D. Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries, Barbara Lee, Tim Ryan, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Alcee Hastings, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Anthony Brown, Bobby L. Rush, Mark Takano, James P. McGovern, Jose E. Serrano, Norma Torres, Earl Blumenauer, Raul Grijalva, Louise M. Slaughter, Dina Titus, Dwight Evans, Eliot Engel, Terri A.Sewell, Carolyn B. Maloney, Mark Pocan, Danny Davis, Janice D. Schakowsky, Robin L. Kelly, Lisa Blunt Rochester, Alma Adams, Steve Cohen, Grace F. Napolitano, Bennie G. Thompson, David N. Cicilline, Luis Gutierrez, John A. Yarmuth, Tulsi Gabbard, Robert A. Brady, Darren Soto, Ted Lieu, Joyce Beatty, McCollum, Donald S. Beyer, Jr., Cedric L. Richmond, John Lewis, John Garamendi, Alan S. Lowenthal, Carol Shea-Porter, Marcy Kaptur, Colleen Hanabusa, Elijah E. Cummings, Jamie Raskin, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Bill Foster

Endorsing organizationsNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)Communications Workers of America (CWA), Public Knowledge, Free Press, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National Lifeline Association, Benton Foundation, Greenlining Institute, United Church of Christ, Common Sense Kids Action, National Consumer Law Center, The Utility Reform Network, OpenMedia, OCA- Asian Pacific American Advocates, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Appalshop, Inc