Latinos and the Digital Divide: Low-Income Families Could Benefit from FCC Expansion of Lifeline
The FCC is taking a considering expanding its Lifeline subsidy program to include broadband services in a step it considers could lessen the digital divide among key demographics like Latinos.
Stressing the importance of broadband in daily lives, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wants to make it available to more Americans through its Lifeline program.
Started in 1985, Lifeline provides low-income households with a subsidy they could previously only use for voice communication services. Wheeler now wants to expand Lifeline's scope to include Internet. The proposal comes a little more than three months after the FCC decided to classify broadband as a public utility akin to telephone service in its net neutrality decision. The FCC is expected to vote on the matter June 18.
If Wheeler has his way, then households could use their $9.25 subsidy towards obtaining high-speed Internet instead of a voice service. Around 95 percent of households with incomes over $150,000 have access to high-speed Internet, while only 48 percent of households with incomes under $25,000 do. This, Wheeler says, is the difference between the haves and the have-nots.
"In 2015, broadband access is essential to find a job: more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 job openings are online," wrote Wheeler in a blog post. "Americans need broadband to keep a job, as companies increasing require basic digital literacy skills. We rely on broadband to manage and receive healthcare, and to help our children do their homework. A 2012 study estimated that broadband helps a typical U.S. consumer saves $8,800 a year by providing access to bargains on goods and services."
Although there are criticisms of waste and fraud in the Lifeline program, the initiative served around 12 million last year and Wheeler is convinced it can help lessen the digital divide, a term referring to the gap between Wheeler's "haves and have-nots."
Programs like Lifeline offer a key component to solving the digital divide among demographics like Latinos. Although Latinos have been found to be early smartphone adopters and more likely to use their smartphone to complete tasks, the fact remains that many Latinos are contingent on the wireless service only. A more permanent solution, and one that affects households more, is hooked up access to real broadband.
"The expansion of Lifeline to support broadband services will give millions of Latinos opportunities for social and economic advancement," said Eric Rodriguez, who heads the public policy office at the National Council of La Raza in a Los Angeles Times article.
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