FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed changes to the Lifeline program. This program serves nearly 12 million low-income Americans with subsidized phone and internet services. The changes proposed by Trump’s pick, Pai, would cut nearly 8 million customers from the service – about 70 percent.
Many of the users to be cut off would be Puerto Ricans who need Lifeline services as they STILL recover from Hurricane Irma that decimated them in September 2017.
The Lifeline Program, which many have called the “Obama Phone Program” in the past, was actually put into place by Ronald Reagan in 1985. Presidents like George W. Bush and Obama pushed the program to help those affected by the inability to afford their own phone lines or internet access, especially when emergencies arise. It helps a “disproportionate number of families with children, veterans, and people of color.” In other words: it is a social program aimed at helping the poor, and Republicans hate those.
Senators like Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris are questioning Pai’s motives. They wrote an open letter to get to the bottom of his suggested changes. The letter reads in part,
The Lifeline Program is essential for millions of Americans who rely on subsidized internet access to find jobs, schedule doctor’s appointments, complete their school assignments, interface with the government, and remain connected in a digital economy.
Pai says the money saved will help rural telephone companies by encouraging them to build networks in those areas. However, he fails to understand the disadvantages of these rural areas. The cost for networks in some of the most inaccessible places far outweigh the cost saved by strangling the Lifeline program. Places like Peurto Rico and Appalachia would be hit hardest.
Luis Belén, CEO of National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved, said that the program is quite literally a lifeline in times of disaster. He said,
These are rural communities two hours away from any real healthcare. We’re not talking about giving these people unlimited texting, this isn’t a luxury. This is something people use to take care of their basic needs. It doesn’t make sense to get rid of a tool that can significantly reduce health costs and cut off communication with Americans after a year with a number of deadly weather events. This is an inexpensive tool that saves us a lot of money down the line.
The changes seem to only help phone giants like AT&T and Sprint. Telecom companies that don’t provide their own infrastructure would be prevented from offering subsidized plans – and guess who doesn’t provide their own infrastructure? Once again, it’s just like Republicans to put corporations above its people.