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Verizon Proposes Government-Funded Broadband Debit Cards

(Image credit: Verizon)

Verizon is proposing the government take a new, comprehensive, approach to closing the digital divide, one that would mean investing more in subsidized broadband service, for one.

Saying it was urging "a new government approach to help bridge the digital divide," the company said Friday the government needed to go beyond the current FCC Universal Service Fund $9.95-per-month lifeline broadband subsidy.

Also Read: USTelecom Urges Flexibility in Emergency Broadband Funding

Instead, said Verizon, Congress should create a permanent broadband benefit program of between $20 and $50 per month subsidy for low income residents, and make it easy by handing out electronic benefit cards that could be used like a debit card to buy broadband service.

Congress has already allocated $3.2 billion in emergency funding for broadband access for low-income residents and students as part of the recently passed package of appropriations and COVID-19 aid funds 

And rather than being confined to a low-cost tier, as is the case with Lifeline--hence the name--the card could be used for whatever plans, services or equipment a recipient needed. 

Verizon is also pitching a streamlined enrollment program to boost participation.

The new subsidy is part of Verizon's proposal to address that fact that millions of people still either don't have access to broadband, can't afford it or don't have the digital literacy to use it or understand its benefits.

Verizon said Congress and FCC policies have not gone far enough to close the persistent national problem of a broadband gap, which needs to be addressed in a comprehensive way.

Verizon points out that it has taken a number of steps to help close that gap, including support for discounted broadband for 38 million students, its Verizon Fios discount for low-income residents and its Citizen Verizon commitment to provide 10 million young people with access and training by 2030.

But it said while private sector efforts and Lifeline subsidies have boosted access, bold new action like its proposal is needed. 

It is also calling for increased funding for digital education, for updating local government online services systems, and for broadband deployment in rural or unserved areas.

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.