The Federal Communications Commission plans to soon begin working on a proposal to subsidize Internet service for low-income consumers by expanding its Lifeline program, which is mocked by conservatives as the "Obamaphone" program.
All three Democrats on the five-member commission have publicly said they want to use federal money to help ensure that all Americans can afford to get online. Lifeline—which despite the Obamaphone nickname was created during the Reagan administration—currently subsidizes only phone service.
"The Lifeline program, established in the mid '80s, has been stuck in the mid '80s," Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn told National Journal during an interview Wednesday on C-SPAN's The Communicators. Clyburn said she is hoping the agency will unveil a proposal by this summer to expand the program to cover Internet access.
Lifeline subsidizes about $10 of phone service per month for qualifying consumers. Under Clyburn's plan, that amount wouldn't necessarily increase, but consumers could choose to have it cover the data on their smartphone or their home broadband connection.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler indicated at a public meeting last December he agrees that Lifeline should cover Internet costs, and Jessica Rosenworcel, the other Democratic commissioner, is particularly focused on ensuring that children from poor families have Internet access at home so they can do their online homework.