NHMC: Pai Lifeline Proposal Widens Digital Divide

Using terms like "marginalize" and "gut"--and that was just in the headline of their press release--the National Hispanic Media Coalition has made it clear it is no fan of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's media ownership dereg proposal or its proposal to revamp the Lifeline low income communications service subsidy.

Pai circulated a draft order of those and other items he plans to vote on at the Nov. 16 public meeting.

""This FCC's draft decision to eliminate media ownership limits is a disservice and injury to media owners of color who will be further crowded out by rampant media consolidation," said NHMC director of policy and legal affairs Carmen Scurrato.

"Instead of finding solutions to address the shockingly low levels of broadcast ownership diversity and conducting court-mandated studies, the FCC chose to ignore the facts and the law, once again favoring corporate interests at the expense of local and diverse voices."

Pai has argued that moves like eliminating the newspaper-broadcast crossownership ban could help save diverse voices, like smaller newspapers, that might otherwise go under, a victim of the rising tide of ubiquitous and free, but not always reliable, 'net news and information.

NHMC was not happy with the proposal to potentially cap, and definitely to better target the Lifeline fund and verify its recipients. "Simply put, imposing a budget cap and suggesting to impose benefit limit will ensure that Americans who qualify will not be able to receive the discounts they need to obtain or keep the phone and Internet service that allows traditionally underserved communities to participate in our economy, democracy and society. The Chairman's plan for Lifeline is nothing more than a plan to further widen the digital divide," she said.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn agreed with that assessment of the Lifeline order (she is also no fan of the media dereg item). “If the goal of the current FCC majority is to widen existing divides, and ensure that our nation's most vulnerable are less likely to be connected, this item sets us on that path," she said Friday of the draft. "It will harm those less fortunate, those who need to dial 911, stay in touch with their children's educators, keep a job, and stay healthy. The day we head down such a path, is a sad one indeed."

The draft order is scheduled to be voted on Nov. 16.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.