Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Lifeline: Connecting People Now and in the Future

Today members of the House of Representatives held a hearing to consider the Federal Communications Commission's Lifeline program, which provides a financial subsidy to low-income people to help them afford telephone service.  The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry, OC Inc., was pleased to collaborate with its civil rights and other allies in supporting this program, including the excellent testimony by UCC OC Inc.'s close ally, the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

 

Since 1934, the United States has recognized the importance of ensuring that all people can communicate with each other through a policy of "universal service."   For almost 30 years, federal communications policy has set funds aside to ensure that people would be connected to the telephone network even if their financial circumstances or remote location might otherwise prevent them from doing so.   And in 1996, universal service was expanded by Congress to also assist schools and libraries and rural health care providers. 

 

The low-income Lifeline program has recently come under attack, not for the important work that it does, but because a few bad actors have taken advantage of a program targeting the lowest income Americans and used it for their own gain.  The attacks are all more upsetting because this program is not in need of curtailment -- rather it is in need of updating so that it can support the use of new technologies, such as high speed broadband Internet, rather than simple voice telephone service.

 

While voice phone service is a minimum service necessary for everything from reaching 9-1-1 to getting a job, the truth is that Americans who  can afford it are rapidly moving to broadband Internet for most of their communications needs.  For example, the Wall Street Journal recently ran a story describing high school students who routinely study and do their homework at McDonald's, which offers Internet access, because those students' families cannot afford to subscribe at home.  Unfortunately, the advent of high speed broadband is making the "digital divide" worse, as the least connected fall farther behind.

 

Fortunately, Rep. Doris Matsui, joined by Rep. Henry Waxman and Rep. Anna Eshoo, have introduced a bill that would ensure the Lifeline program is not only well-run, but that it aids the people who most need it.  The proposed Broadband Adoption Act would go a long way toward ensuring that our nation remains competitive and fair.   Broadband Internet important to ensure that people who seek to find a way out of poverty have the means to do so--through education, job searches, and access to benefits programs which offer support in a time of need.   Universal access to broadband Internet is not only important to the individuals who need it, but also to our whole country--we cannot succeed in the world economy if we fail to utilizing the skills and talents of a significant proportion of our people.

 

Since 1997, the United Church of Christ has formally recognized we risk becoming a society of "information rich" and "information poor" -- with dramatic consequences for exacerbating inequities that already exist in our midst.   Communications is a human right -- a tool that connects us to our communities, helps to disclose injustice, and facilitate innumerable aspects of modern life. 

 

As such, we wholeheartedly express our support for the Lifeline program as it stands now, and for legislative proposals to ensure that it keeps pace with technological change by supporting high speed broadband Internet. 

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