Guest Blog: FCC Must Preserve Lifeline to the Internet

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put good government on display when chairman Tom Wheeler announced plans to modify its Lifeline program to include high-speed Internet access to low-income Americans.

The Lifeline program was established by the Reagan Administration to ensure low-income households have a landline phone, an essential utility. On March 31, the FCC will vote on the next important upgrade to this nonpartisan program, which received its last upgrade when President George W. Bush expanded it to include wireless services.

Times have changed, as have our lifelines. The way we relied on a landline phone in the 1980s is barely comparable to how dependent today’s household is on broadband (high-speed) internet.

A 2015 Pew Broadband Study found that nearly half of all homes with incomes under $30,000 do not have Internet access, even as “Americans—both broadband users and those who do not have broadband—are increasingly likely to view home broadband as a key tool for accessing information that is important to their lives.”

High-speed Internet has become the modern world’s lifeline. The ability to be online is essential for communication, banking, bills, work, job hunting, education and almost every other facet of one’s life. Anyone without high-speed internet is at a dangerous disadvantage.

The members of the Writers Guild of America, East have been vocal supporters of net neutrality, as it ensures the internet remain a level playing field for content creators and the public. Now, the FCC has the opportunity to bridge the gap between those who can instantly access breaking video from almost anywhere in the world and low-income Americans who can’t even open email at home.

Michael Winship is president of the Writers Guild of America, East and senior writer of Moyers & Company and Lowell Peterson is executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East.