This month the FCC voted to advance a proposal that would allow the government to subsidize broadband services for low-income Americans. Currently, under the Lifeline program, Lifeline receivers must be at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty line, or be enrolled in some type of public assistance program. Users may use the subsidy for either wireline or mobile service, but not both. Only one Lifeline account is allowed per household. The expansion approved today would provide subsidies for broadband services as well as cellular and landline services. The Lifeline program is funded by fees paid by service providers. The current proposal would set the subsidy at $9.25 for Internet and phone service.
The FCC plans to release more specific details on the plan and will open a proceeding soliciting public comments later this year before making a final decision. LGBT Tech supports efforts to expand and modernize the Lifeline program. As our own research shows, LGBT people (especially homeless LGBT youth) can see significant benefits from participation in these programs. According to a landmark 2012 study and part of the LGBT Technology Institute’s Connect 4 Life research, nearly 40% of America’s homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. This equates to over 650,000 LGBT youth on America’s streets at any given moment. These young people have often faced rejection by parents and families and abuse from their peers, leaving them without stable systems of support. When they seek help, they regularly encounter service providers who lack basic competency to care for their needs or provide them with an environment free from attacks on their identities. As a result, homeless LGBT youth experience higher rates of depression, abuse, and suicidality and are more likely to engage in risky social behaviors.
Today, many homeless youth own a working cell phone – more than 40% according to a 2011 study by the University of Southern California – and use them to connect with life saving services like caseworkers, social workers, or shelters, to contact current or potential employers, and to stay in touch with their support networks. A program like Lifeline can make a world of difference to a homeless youth who is using his cell phone as a literal Lifeline to the world. LGBT Tech will be monitoring the FCC’s efforts in this area and will file comments as appropriate as the proceeding is discussed and finalized.