09.25.19

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

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator 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 of, and enrollment in, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline program, which aims to help low-income households pay for their telephone and broadband service charges by providing a monthly subsidy of $9.25.  Enrollment in the Lifeline program remains extremely low nationwide.

“High-quality and reliable broadband service is essential for students trying to complete homework assignments, people searching for job opportunities, and improving access to health care services in rural areas,” Durbin said. “Too often, cost is a barrier to broadband service in many households, which is why Rep. Maloney and I want to increase enrollment in the FCC’s Lifeline program so more American families can access broadband.”

“We know just how important having access to broadband is these days for families, small business owners and students in the Hudson Valley and across New York. But sadly the cost of this important tool pushes it out of reach for many. 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,” said Maloney.

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

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 50 percent of 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.  In 2017, the Lifeline program had just a 28 percent participation rate nationwide.

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 or SNAP participants of 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 the National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients; the United Church of Christ, OC Inc.; the National Digital Inclusion Alliance; Third Way; and Public Knowledge.  

“Senator Durbin’s and Representative Maloney’s bill addresses a great need for broadband access. Over 20 million households in the U.S. have no internet access of any kind, including cellular. They are mostly households in poverty. NDIA represents 380 community-based organizations, libraries, housing authorities, local governments and others running programs to increase access and use of technology. NDIA’s Affiliates look forward to working with their state governments to assist eligible communities members to sign up for Lifeline, the only communications subsidy in the U.S.,” said Angela Siefer, Executive Director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

“The Lifeline program is critical to making broadband affordable, but right now it’s not serving nearly enough families. By helping states connect more eligible families to the support Lifeline offers, the Promoting Access to Broadband Act will get us closer to giving every American the opportunity to earn a good life in the digital age. We thank Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Sean Maloney for their leadership on this,” said Gabe Horwitz, Senior Vice President for the Economic Program, Third Way.

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