In case anybody with enough bandwidth to read this wasn’t sufficiently terrified by the FCC’s ongoing campaign to break the internet by dismantling net neutrality, the nation’s communication authority has kindly provided another reason for any digital-enabled American to expatriate and/or secede.
The FCC’s most recent reform proposal proposes to reform the absolute Hell out of Lifeline, the $2.25 billion program to provide low-income Americans with broadband Internet access. Also, phones. The Lifeline Program has been doing its job since 1985, when noted socialist firebrand Ronald Reagan instituted it to subsidize phone service in underprivileged communities. It was expanded to include broadband Internet access in 2016, and right now 12 million households benefit from Lifeline-subsidized phone and Internet access.
That’s apparently a problem.
The FCC’s stated concern is that the General Accounting Office recently found $1.2 million of the $2.25 billion Lifeline budget was being used fraudulently. Fraud is bad! But in case you don’t have your TI-85 handy, that’s less than a tenth of 1 percent. That is not very much fraud. Not enough to nix an entire program, at least.
The greater concern, as usual, appears to be about profit. Under the current Lifeline guidelines, many subsidized companies are small ISPs and resellers providing access to third-party networks. Often, these services are the only Internet access available in rural areas, tribal lands, and other underserved communities.
That doesn’t work for Commissioner Pai.
Earlier this year, Pai used “delegated authority,” the FCC’s version of executive orders, to bypass oversight and personally rescind subsidy access from 9 ISPs providing services to rural areas and tribal lands.
These reforms continue that trend. They ban subsidies for no-cost Internet service, which is the business model of 70% of current Lifeline subsidy recipients. It is notably not the business model of large ISPs that rhyme with Buhrizon. I’m sure that’s a coincidence.
They also impose an absolute budget cap, meaning that millions of poor households could lose their Internet access, and the increased opportunities for education and employment that come with it, if someone in a comfy office a thousand miles away effs up the accounting.
In short, it sucks.
The proposed reforms to the Lifeline Project are another example of the FCC, deliberately or through negligence, rigging the market in favor of major conglomerates at the expense of consumers, small businesses and the general public.
Lifeline isn’t perfect, but it’s doing its job. Whether the same can be said for Ajit Pai’s FCC is, at best, an open question.