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Digital Divide: Civil Rights Groups Set Benchmarks to Correct "Vast Disparities in Access" to Broadband

Written by Featured Organization on 22 April 2011.

Cite Internet Access as Imperative to Reducing Unemployment in Minority Communities: Washington, D.C. – A coalition of national civil rights and labor organizations has responded to the Federal Communications Commission's request for commentary on how to improve access to broadband for low-income, minority, and other unserved and underserved communities.

In a letter to FCC Commissioners, the coalition urged swift action to broaden the reach of broadband access through the Lifeline and Link-Up programs as an economic imperative for minorities, stating that:

"This access is critically important for success in the job market, especially in a competitive job market where March 2011 unemployment was 8.8 percent, black unemployment was 15.5 percent and Latino unemployment was 11.3 percent Broadband plays a critically important role in all parts of the jobs pipeline – covering job readiness that includes obtaining skills necessary for a job, job placement that includes successfully applying for a job, and job progression that includes retraining for advancing through a job."

Lifeline and Link-Up have provided low-income households with discounts on monthly phone bills and initial installation charges since 1985, The letter recommends the following seven steps to enhance the effectiveness and reach of the Lifeline and Link-Up programs:

Move quickly to expand Lifeline and Link-Up to support broadband services that can support voice as well as other applications;
Expand Lifeline and Link-Up to support broadband services this year.

Create a financial set-aside for competitive grants within the Lifeline program.

Expand and simplify eligibility rules, create incentives within the program to reach target populations and reduce waste and fraud, and mandate combined outreach (and possibly administration) of this program with other similar programs.

Increase efficiency and reduce waste by incorporating into the Lifeline program the latest and best thinking regarding federal benefit programs—particularly by expanding and simplifying eligibility rules, creating incentives within the program to reach target populations and reduce waste and fraud, combining outreach of this program with other similar programs, and redefining "household".

Postpone any consideration of a cap until the reforms proposed in the current proceeding can be implemented; and
Take this opportunity to reevaluate the current distribution of financial support between universal service funds to support low income consumers and programs that support high cost areas.

The letter was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Asian American Justice Center, Communications Workers of America, National Urban League, NAACP, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients, National Disability Rights Network, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National Organization for Women Foundation, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.

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