FCC to decide on program to expand digital access for poor households

FCC to decide on program to expand digital access for poor households

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Madelyne Tenorio, 7, works on a project during a robotics and computer class at the Bell Technology Center.; Credit: Dorian Merina/KPCC

This week, the FCC is weighing whether to move forward on a plan to help low-income Americans get access online. The five-member commission is voting Thursday on a program known as Lifeline, which would subsidize broadband access for low-income families. The move could go far to address the so-called digital divide – including right here in Southern California, where low-income, foreign-born Latinos show one of the largest digital gaps of any group.

“There’s an expectation in 2016 that people are connected to the Internet,” said Jessica Gonzalez, executive vice president and general counsel of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a group in favor of the program. “And if you are not, you are missing opportunities.”

Those include employment and educational opportunities, said Gonzalez, who noted that nationwide about 34 million Americans still lack high-speed Internet.

RELATED: FCC moves ahead on plan to expand Internet to low-income households

But the program has come under criticism in the past. A 2012 GAO report on the program found waste and fraud. Since then, the FCC says reforms have been put in place to respond to the problems, including a nationwide database to track participants and eliminate duplicate accounts. As of 2014, more than 12 million households were enrolled in Lifeline, up from about 7 million in 2008.

View the FCC agenda for Thursday, March 31, 2016

Click the blue play button above to listen to the full interview with Gonzalez.