FCC Halts Internet Access Subsidies For the Poor

Pai and his fellow Republican Commissioner Mike O'Rielly have been gunning to overturn the net neutrality rulings since the beginning of the Trump administration.

"These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace", new FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.

"By eliminating the designations of nine entities to provide Lifeline broadband service, the Bureau has substantially undermined businesses who had begun relying on those designations", Clyburn said.

In a January 11 report, the FCC's wireless bureau said Binge On did not violate net neutrality rules, but it found concerns with AT&T and Verizon's data programs. "Rather than working to close the digital divide, this action widens the gap", she said.

The move makes it more hard for low-income Americans to access the Web, say critics.

Regulators are telling nine companies that they will not be allowed to participate in a federal program meant to help provide affordable Internet access to low-income consumers, weeks after the firms had been given the green light to do so. Additionally, he said that the last-minute actions did not have the full backing of the majority of commissioners at the time, should not bind the commission going forward, he said.

Since becoming chairman last month, Pai has made closing the digital divide a central axis of his policy agenda. A Commission report from February 2015 found that almost 55 million Americans don't have access to advanced broadband, which is defined by the FCC as internet with at least 25 Mbps download speeds. One such restriction could be a strict cap on the program's budget, which is indirectly funded through fees in the bills of telephone customers. "But, clearly the goal was to include this in the 'Friday News Dump, ' as my request was flatly denied".

The consumer group Free Press joined Clyburn in criticizing both the action and the way it was carried out.

Kajeet Inc. was one of the nine companies initially granted permission to provide service through Lifeline.

"We can recite statistics all we want, but we must never lose sight of the fact that what we're really talking about is people - unemployed workers who miss out on jobs that are only listed online, students who go to fast-food restaurants to use the Wi-Fi hotspots to do homework, veterans who are unable to apply for their hard-earned benefits, seniors who can't look up health information when they get sick", previous FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said.

On Feb. 3, Pai's acting bureau chief revoked the eligibility and accompanying streamlined treatment, citing a National Tribal Telecommunications Association petition to reverse the eligibility on some of the companies, and because it would "promote program integrity by providing the Bureau with additional time to consider measures that might be necessary to prevent further waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program".

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