A coalition of 200 advocacy and grassroots organizing groups defended the federal Lifeline program—which subsidizes telecommunications access for underserved communities—in a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai yesterday (February 21). 

The coalition, known as The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, filed the letter on the last day that the FCC accepted comments on its plan to roll back several Lifeline components. Lifeline currently offers households living at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty line a $9.25-per-month subsidy toward phone and broadband internet expenses. The FCC voted last November to implement changes that would impact low-income communities, including those of color, and their ability to use telecommunications services. One such proposed change prohibits “enhanced” Lifeline support—an extra $25-per-month subsidy—in urban areas. Another excludes those who primarily access the internet through wi-fi hot spots from the subsidy entirely.

Coalition member organizations include The Center for Media Justice, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Native Public Media, which all advocate for people of color. The letter details how the communities they serve would suffer under the new plan: 

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the 200 undersigned organizations that work directly with and advocate for low-income people, people of color, seniors, families struggling to find housing, people with disabilities, residents of rural areas, veterans, victims of domestic violence, health care providers, educators and students, we urge you to reject the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) new proposals that will debilitate the Lifeline program, the only federal program targeted at assisting low-income households with the cost of broadband and telephone service. Each of our organizations knows broadband internet access is a vital tool that remains elusive for our diverse communities. Telephone access is similarly essential and costly. We urge you, as a chairman who asserts his highest priority is closing the digital divide, to make good on that promise and bolster, not undermine, the Lifeline program.

[…] 

Access to broadband and telephone enables access to education and job opportunities, invaluable health information and social services. Broadband is essential for any child or adult who goes to school or seeks to further enhance their skills. We urge you to reject the FCC’s new proposals on Lifeline and stand by the low-income people of this country.

Several of the signatories also opposed the FCC’s order that repealed net neutrality protections. The FCC published the final version of that order, titled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” today (February 22).