CWA: Expanding Lifeline Program Will Help Close Digital Divide

Monday, August 31, 2015

Washington, D.C. -- In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission today, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) called for specific measures to modernize and expand the Lifeline program to make broadband service more affordable and accessible to lower-income families.

Read the complete filing here

“High-speed broadband service is as essential to modern life today as telephone service was in the last century,” CWA President Chris Shelton said. “The Lifeline program must be updated to break through the digital divide and acknowledge the fundamental reality that Internet access is ‘truly a lifeline to the outside world.’”

Economic factors, and especially household income, are significant barriers to the expansion of broadband services, CWA said, citing Pew Research Center data that found that “low-income homes with children are four times more likely to be without broadband than their middle or upper-income counterparts.” According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, just 47 percent of households with incomes below $25,000 have broadband service. In today’s world, broadband service is a necessity for employment and job search, health and education. Yet lower-income families face a real and widening digital divide, CWA said.   

CWA made these recommendations for the Lifeline program:

  • Set minimum speed and service requirements for carriers consistent with other universal service programs. The 10 Mbps downstream/1 Mbp upstream standard for Connect America also should be provided to Lifeline customers. 
  • Provide reimbursement to Lifeline customers for up-front connection charges, in addition to the monthly subsidy. The Commission also should monitor the cost and availability of broadband products and consider some reimbursement toward equipment purchases. 
  • Establish a national eligibility verification system that enables Lifeline participants to efficiently and easily change carriers if a better service is available. 
  • Promote the service to more lower-income families to achieve as full participation rates as possible. CWA strongly opposes a cap to financing of Lifeline services. 

Contact: Candice Johnson, CWA Communications, 202-434-1168,