Thursday, December 15, 2016

The HomeworkGap Shrinks. FCC Lifeline Reform & Internet for Everyone!

It's December 2016. Merry Christmas to everyone. Especially a whole bunch of Americans who now have a better way to connect and learn!

Something I have been following for a while is the Lifeline reform that the FCC had embarked on changing earlier in the year. I am a huge advocate for this, partially because I live in an area of the US that is deeply affected by the Homework Gap, inside the Digital Divide, and whatever other name you want to call our area.

Hidalgo county is one of the most economically challenged areas in the United States and our broadband adoption rates are ridiculously low compared to the rest of the US, coming in at right around 37%.

So, when Lifeline reform came around and one of my favorite FCC Commissioners Janet Rosenworcel spoke up and took the #HomeworkGap under her wing, I was all ears. After finding out the best way to get it done and pushing hard to make it happen, on March 31st 2016 it passed.

What do the new rules cover?

Stand-alone broadband, bundled voice-broadband packages - either fixed or mobile - and stand-alone voice service. The reform even covers text messages as part of lifeline communication. One of the neat things, I think, is that if a provider is offering a device, it has to include hotspot functionality. However, nothing I have seen yet covers the cost of the actual device, only the service.
For community organizations, "Aggregation projects" will allow for community-based organizations, housing associations, and institutions to aggregate benefits. Think about Boys & Girls Clubs coordinating this. It could be incredible.

But what does that mean, and what does it mean for places like Hidalgo County, Texas?

Well, check it out: $9.25 per month for eligible low-income subscribers.

How do you know if you're eligible?

Here's info from The FCC Lifeline program site:

To participate in the program, subscribers must either have an income that is at or below 135% of the federal Poverty Guidelines  or participate in certain assistance programs. You can see if you are eligible with the Lifeline Eligibility Pre-Screening Tool on the Universal Service Administrative website at www.lifelinesupport.org.
or:
Following is a list of assistance programs that qualify a participant for Lifeline:

Who is offering this service?

Here are a few that are offering the service as of the latest approvals. To see a full list of the applicants and their status, visit this website.


  • Spot On
    Available in:
    New York Only

    Details:
    Fixed wireless broadband offering with speeds of 20 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, with no usage limits at a price of $9.75 per month.

  • Boomerang Wireless
    Available in:
    Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, including the Tribal lands within Boomerang’s service territory.

    Details:
    500 MB of mobile broadband internet access services (BIAS) at 3G speeds and 100 units for voice or text services to Lifeline subscribers on non-Tribal lands, and 750 MB of mobile BIAS with unlimited voice and text, to Lifeline subscribers on Tribal lands, at no cost to the consumer after applying the Lifeline discount. Uses the Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile networks.
  • FreedomPop
    Available In:
    Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, , Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia. Additionally, FreedomPop seeks to serve Tribal Lands in Oklahoma and Hawaii.

    Details:
    A selection of mobile BIAS plans at 3G speeds, the basic offerings include 500 MB at no cost after applying the Lifeline discount. Uses the Sprint network.

  • KonaTel
    Available In:
    Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas including the Tribal lands within KonaTel’s service territory.

    Details:
    Two non-Tribal mobile BIAS plans: (1) 500 MB of data at 4G or 3G speeds, unlimited voice, and unlimited texting at a cost of $9.95 per month after the Lifeline discount; (2) 2 GB of data at 4G speeds with unlimited 3G/2G access after usage allotment, unlimited voice, and unlimited texting at a cost of $19.95 per month after applying the Lifeline discount. KonaTel will also offer an unlimited data at 4G speeds, unlimited voice, and unlimited texting plan to eligible Tribal consumers at $19.95 per month after applying the Lifeline discount.

So, how do you sign-up?

It's not clear yet as each company will have their own ways of getting setup.

What about AT&T, Spectrum, etc?

Well, they've been doing it for a while! It's not free, but it's very low-cost and will probably be a part of this larger program at some point.

  • AT&T Access
    Eligibility:
    at least 1 person in the household has to qualify for SNAP benefits.

    Details:
    $5 per month, 3 Mbps. $10 per month 5 Mbps & 10 Mbps
    Limited to 600GB transfer per month (nice!)
    No activation fees and includes a free wireless router
    Qualifying families can get a computer for $149.99

    Sign-up:
     https://accessatt.solixcs.com/#/home
  • Spectrum Internet AssistNews Release
    Eligibility:
    A student in the School Lunch Program and/or Seniors 65+ who receive Supplemental Security Income.

    Details:
    $15 per month, up to 30Mbps down / 4 Mbps up
    No data caps
    Wired service
    You must not have had an account within 60 days of enrolling or owe them any money.
    Not available everywhere (unfortunately not in South Texas yet)

    Sign-up:
    https://www.charter.com/browse/content/spectrum-internet-assist
    844 525-1574

Those are the two that affect the area that I live in. For a great and comprehensive list, the folks over at cheapinternet.com have been doing a tremendous job keeping up with this:
http://www.cheapinternet.com/low-income-internet

For more information 


Keep up to date with the USAC page:
https://usac.org/li/tools/rules-orders/2016-lifeline-order.aspx

Follow the list of providers who are petitioning to be a part of this:
https://www.fcc.gov/lifeline-broadband-provider-petitions-public-comment-periods



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