Ed-Tech Policy

Superintendents, Community Groups Ask FCC for Broadband in ‘Lifeline’ Program

By Benjamin Herold — October 15, 2015 2 min read
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In separate letters to the Federal Communications Commission, nearly 200 school district leaders and a coalition of more than 140 religious, civil rights, technology and other groups have urged that the federal Lifeline program be changed so that low-income households can receive subsidies to help pay for broadband Internet connectivity, as well as telephone service.

“Much of the advantage of education technology lies in student access to information and education tools outside of the classroom,” the superintendents wrote in a letter dated September 30. “Sadly, many students do not have broadband access at home and cannot complete assignments and supplement their learning outside school. If the nation wants to produce globally competitive graduates with twenty-first-century skills and competencies, this ‘homework gap’ must be addressed.”

The Lifeline program was established in 1985 to help poor Americans access basic communications. It currently allows for a $9.25 per month, per household subsidy for services. In a party-line 3-2 vote in June, the Democrat-controlled FCC invited public comments on a proposal that would allow home broadband Internet to be funded through the same subsidy.

Chairman Tom Wheeler and fellow Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel are leading the charge for Lifeline modernization. Speaking in Philadelphia in June at the annual conference of the International Society for Technology in Education, Rosenworcel made an impassioned plea for the initiative, describing the so-called ‘homework gap’ as “the cruelest part of our new digital divide.”

Among the prominent school leaders signing the letter were S. Dallas Dance of Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland, Mark Edwards of North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District, and Diane Tavenner, the founder and CEO of the Summit Public Schools charter network in Redwood City, Calif.

That effort was organized by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission, two digital-learning advocacy groups.

Also on September 30, groups including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Common Sense Kids Action, and the National Association of Social Workers sent a similar letter of their own.

“The Internet can play a crucial role in moving people out of poverty. And yet, cost remains a critical barrier to internet access for millions of Americans,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a press release accompanying the letter. “By modernizing the Lifeline program, the FCC can bridge this digital divide, and help millions of low-income Americans afford the broadband service they need to succeed in our digital age.”

Photo: FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel speaks at ISTE 2015. Charles Mostoller for Education Week.

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