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FCC to Subsidize Internet Access for Low-Income Citizens, Begin Writing Rules to Protect Customer Data

Because there shouldn't be an income barrier to watching mukbang videos.


Here’s a statistic that is surprising for a “first-world” nation – 10% of citizens in the United States (that’s 34 million people) don’t have access to high-speed Internet. It’s an even worse problem among rural citizens, 39% of whom don’t have that access. In a vote earlier today, the FCC decided to subsidize Internet access for low-income people in an attempt to close the digital gap in the U.S. Also in that vote was the decision to write new rules protecting customer data from Internet Service Providers.

The FCC basically voted to extend an already-existing phone-subsidy program called Lifeline to include Internet access. As reported by The Daily Dot, this would require “ISPs to establish special service plans paid for by Lifeline’s $9.25 monthly subsidy.” Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic FCC commissioner, said, “By incorporating broadband into the Lifeline program, we open the doors of digital opportunity. This simple change can help bring more broadband to low-income households with school-aged children.”

Not everyone was thrilled about the Lifeline vote. The Lifeline program has faced reports of fraud and abuse in the past, and wireless companies were quick to suggest that the low subsidy amount would force people in the program to pay money they don’t have out of pocket. (Um, but isn’t that your job to solve by creating a service for which the $9.25 subsidy is enough? You can just…do that, wireless companies. You decide how much you charge.) However, there have been reforms made to Lifeline to improve the program.

ISPs now have to pay an independent company to verify applicants’ eligibility, as well as check a database of current Lifeline recipients to ensure that people requesting subsidies aren’t already getting them, placing the responsibility on ISPs to prevent fraud while also ensuring that they offer a quality, low-income Internet service for those subsidized.

The vote today also covered some new rules regarding protecting customer data. Basically, customers would have to give “affirmative permission” for ISPs to use their information for anything other than providing and marketing Internet services. So, it would be opt-in rather than opt-out. Again, putting responsibility on the ISPs themselves, not on customers, nor on the government, to protect this data. The plan also requires ISPs to do everything reasonably possible to protect customer data from theft, and sets a timeline for ISPs to let customers know when they’ve been subject to a security breach.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said, ““If this plan is adopted, each of us will have the right to exercise control over what personal data our broadband provider uses and under what circumstances it shares our personal information with third parties or affiliated companies. We will know what information is being collected about us and how it’s being used.”

More people having access to a safer Internet? Sounds like a good thing to me!

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.