Ed-Tech Policy

Pending FCC Decision on Lifeline Program Could Impact ‘Homework Gap’

By Leo Doran — February 29, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Led by Chairman Tom Wheeler, FCC commissioners voted last June to open a public comment period on a proposal to overhaul the agency’s Lifeline Program, which provides subsidies for phone service to America’s low-income households.

The proposal, which the commissioners are considering, would expand the program to offer subsidies for high-speed Internet access, in addition to revamping the rules that govern the existing landline and mobile phone program.

Attention to the “digital divide” and the “homework gap” have heated up in recent months with the revelation that 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires Internet access while nearly five million low-income households with school aged children lack high-speed Internet.

As a result, millions of already disadvantaged students, many of them minorities, must overcome the additional barrier of finding a high-speed connection in a library or local business that their wealthier classmates often have at home.

One of the most vocal advocates of expanding the Lifeline program, Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, has called the homework gap “the cruelest part of the digital divide.” Rosenworcel has scores of school leaders, and advocacy groups behind her.

The proposed changes are controversial. The decision to take up the proposed changes for consideration was passed on a 3 to 2 party line vote among the FCC commissioners.

Conservative FCC commissioners backed by right-leaning advocacy groups and fiscal hawks in Congress have complained about the mushrooming size of the existing Lifeline program.

Ajit Pai, one of two Republican commissioners, issued a statement last year saying that he was “open to having a conversation about including broadband in the Lifeline program” but not before targeting cost overruns that have ballooned the 1985 program to a size “over twenty-three times as large today as it was at the end of the Reagan Administration,” after adjusting for inflation.

In his own statement supporting the rule changes, Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler acknowledged that a flaw in how the program was designed, a rule that lets providers certify the eligibility of program applicants, creates a scenario with the “fox guarding the hen house.”

In addition to reforming how eligibility is determined, the proposed changes include other provisions to improve service while cutting fraud and abuse.

However, conservative groups say the proposed reforms intended to make the program more efficient don’t go far enough. Pai and the other Republican commissioner, Michael O’Reilly, have called for putting a budget cap on the program to keep costs from spiraling out of control, in addition to other measures.

See also:

Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Ed-Tech Policy Opinion Why Are We Turning Our Backs on Remote Learning?
Neither the detractors nor defenders of remote learning are fully in the right, argues one superintendent.
Theresa Rouse
5 min read
Illustration of girl working on computer at home.
Ed-Tech Policy Letter to the Editor Using E-Rate to Address the Homework Gap
The FCC's E-rate program can provide relief to many families, says this letter author from the Internet Society.
1 min read
Ed-Tech Policy Q&A Acting FCC Chair: The 'Homework Gap' Is an 'Especially Cruel' Reality During the Pandemic
Under the new leadership of Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC is exploring broadening the E-Rate to cover home-connectivity needs.
5 min read
Internet connectivity doesn't reach all the houses
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty
Ed-Tech Policy Millions of Students Got Free Home Internet for Remote Learning. How Long Will It Last?
Time and money are running out on temporary agreements between districts and ISPs. Broadband advocates want a federal solution.
10 min read
Cupped hands hold a precious wi-fi symbol
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Digital Vision Vectors/Getty