IF ANYONE BELIEVED access to the internet was not essential prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, nobody is saying that today. With ongoing stay-at-home orders in most states, high-speed broadband internet access has become a necessity to learn, work, engage in commerce and culture, keep abreast of news about the virus, and stay connected to neighbors, friends, and family. Yet nearly a third of American households do not have this critical service, either because it is not available to them, or, as is more often the case, they cannot afford it.
Lifeline is a government program that seeks to ensure that all Americans are connected, regardless of income. Started by the Reagan administration and placed into law by Congress in 1996, Lifeline was expanded by the George W. Bush administration and expanded further during the Obama administration. The program provides a $9.25 a month subsidy per household to low-income Americans for phone and/or broadband service. Because the subsidy is so minimal, most Lifeline customers use it for mobile voice and data services.