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Closing the homework digital divide: The FCC's vote on whether to expand its Lifeline phone subsidy program

by AirTalk®

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Members of FCC are expected to vote next month on re-allocating funds for the Lifeline phone subsidy program to also include internet services for low-income homes. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Acknowledging the growing digital divide in education, next month members of FCC are expected to vote on re-allocating some of its two billion dollars per year funds for the Lifeline phone subsidy program to also include internet services for low-income homes.

About five million families in the U.S. are estimated to lack access to internet in their homes. FCC Commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, cites research that about seven in 10 teachers assign students homework that requires access to the web.

The Lifeline program was created in 1985 and as of 2015, it is estimated that about 12 million households participate in the program. Proponents of the funding redistribution say the change is essential to address disparities in access to technology. Opponents, including the two Republican FCC commissioners and some lawmakers, argue that the Lifeline program has been wasteful, inefficient, and abused by participants.

What’s the history of the program? How does it work? How much of the funds would be re-distributed to provide broadband internet? Where is the need most: urban or rural communities? What do we know about the increase in school’s assigning homework that requires internet access? What’s the likelihood that the proposed changes will be approved by the commission? Is the digital divide a result of unaffordable internet access or is it lack of access to computers and devices?


James P. Steyer, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Common Sense Media, a non-partisan organization dedicated to improving media and technology choices for kids and families

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