Durbin, Maloney Introduce Bicameral Bill To Increase Access To Broadband Service For Low-Income Americans

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18) today introduced a bicameral bill that would increase access to broadband service for low-income urban and rural Americans.  The Promoting Access to Broadband Act would help states increase awareness and enrollment in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline Program. The Lifeline Program helps low-income households pay for their telephone and broadband service charges by providing a monthly subsidy of $9.25, yet enrollment numbers in the program remain extremely low nationwide.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the importance of expanding high-quality and reliable broadband nationwide. However, cost remains a barrier for too many households, which is why Rep. Maloney and I want to increase enrollment in the FCC’s Lifeline Program. Making broadband more affordable helps students complete homework assignments, lets people search for job opportunities, and improves access to health care services,” Durbin said.

“In the age of COVID-19, having access to broadband is more essential than ever for families, small business owners, and students in the Hudson Valley and across New York,” said Maloney. “The digital divide has never been starker as parents and kids are forced to work and learn from home. Bridging that divide is going to be key to getting our kids and our economy back on track. I’m proud to partner with Senator Durbin to help connect Americans to the FCC’s Lifeline program so broadband can be available to everyone – regardless of where you live.”

Along with Durbin and Maloney, the Promoting Access to Broadband Act is also cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that half of all non-broadband users cite cost as a reason that they do not have broadband at home, with 21 percent citing cost as the most important reason they do not have broadband.  Despite the availability of this benefit, the projected number of eligible households participating in the FCC’s Lifeline program was just 26 percent, and even lower in Illinois (19 percent). 

The Promoting Access to Broadband Act would do the following:

  • Award grants to at least five states; 
  • Direct the FCC to consider several factors in evaluating the applications, including: states that have a higher number of covered individuals, states with plans with the potential to reach a higher percentage of eligible-but-not-enrolled households, and the geographic diversity of the applicants;
  • Allow states to use the funds for a variety of Lifeline enrollment efforts, including:
    • Informing Medicaid enrollees, SNAP participants, and low-income individuals of their potential eligibility in the Lifeline program,
    • Providing these individuals with information about how to apply for the Lifeline program, 
    • Partnering with non-profit and community-based organizations to provide individuals with assistance applying for Lifeline and information about product and technology choices; and
  • Require the FCC to issue a report to Congress within a year of establishing the grant program evaluating the program’s effectiveness.

The bill is supported by Third Way and Public Knowledge.

Full text of the bill is available here.