The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put a hold on permission for nine organizations to provide low-cost cell phone and internet service to low-income people. Some of the organizations operate in Washington.
The Lifeline program, in place since 1985, now offers low-cost cellphone and/or internet service to low-income people and families. Former President Barack Obama’s administration expanded the program to include internet in March 2016 and approved nine new companies to take part in December.
On Feb. 3, the Donald Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai rolled back the expansion. He justified the change based on the fact that the companies had received permission after the election as a “midnight hour” order by the former administration, and in the name of reducing fraud and waste.
That means a no-go for companies such as FreedomPop, which spent more than $1 million dollars to get the program up and compliant with federal law. FreedomPop had not yet started providing service to low-income Washingtonians, but it had 10,000 people preregistered in the state. That’s 10,000 people who won’t have access to the internet.
The United Nations declared that internet access was a human right in 2011, given the outsized role it plays in people’s lives in its ability to facilitate access to information and connection with government officials.
Comcast already provides subsidized internet connections in the Seattle area as a condition of its merger with NBC Universal in 2014.
The program is an entry-level service that provide speeds of 10 megabytes downloading and 10 megabytes uploading, said Terry Davis, a spokesperson for Comcast.
For reference, the average download speed is 29.2 megabytes per second, according to testmy.net, a company that monitors internet speeds.
The question of speed is more salient now than ever before, with an FCC chair who is fine with scrapping net neutrality, the rule that says every organization deserves the same treatment as any other. In a world without net neutrality, an activist’s website could get less play than Netflix, either because the latter is more popular or for any arbitrary reason.