FCC Plans New Taxes To Give Away Free Broadband To Low-Income Homes

Feds give away thousands of free computers with stimulus funds

MacIver News Service [Milwaukee, Wisc…] The FCC wants to establish new tax funds to ensure every single person in the country has a home computer and internet access, as part of the controversial plan that would allow the agency to regulate broadband access.

The FCC states in its National Broadband Plan “Everyone in the United States today should have access to broadband services supporting a basic set of applications that include sending and receiving e-mail, downloading Web pages, photos and video, and using simple video conferencing.” View the report here.

Not only should everyone have access, the FCC argues it should be in their homes. “While libraries and other public places are important points of free access that help people use online applications, home access is critical to maximizing utilization. Broadband home access can also help rural, low-income, minority and other communities overcome other persistent socioeconomic or geographic disparities,” according to the FCC’s plan.

To pay for these new broadband entitlements, the FCC would first take $15.5 billion out of the Universal Service Fund and ask Congress for “a few billion dollars per year over two or three years.” At the same time, the FCC would “broaden the USF contribution base to ensure USF remains sustainable over time.”

The FCC would also be expanding other service funds, like Lifeline and Link-Up America, to include broadband service. There are also plans to create the Connect America Fund (CAF) and the Mobility Fund. It also wants to design other “new USF funds in a tax-efficient manner.

The federal government has already spent millions of dollars in stimulus funds giving away free computers to low-income families. New York City received $22 million to give away 18,560 free computers this year with no created/retained jobs attributed to the project. Miami received $3.5 million to bring “broadband awareness to over 336,000 students,” give away 6,000 computers and potentially free internet access. Chicago got $7 million to provide computers to 11,000 residents and 500 small businesses. North Carolina got a million dollars for internet projects that include giving away 50 free laptops. Vermont got $2.5 million to give 1,200 computers to 4th and 5th graders.

The FCC estimates that 35 percent of American adults do not use broadband at home. The agency says they tend to be older, poorer, less educated, a member of a minority group or have a disability. They often cite cost as the reason they do not have broadband.

One of the FCC’s recommendations in its National Broadband Plan is “The FCC should consider free or very low-cost wireless broadband as a means to address the affordability barrier to adoption.”

To pay for all these initiatives, the FCC wants to expand the Universal Service Fund, Lifeline and Link-Up America to include broadband service, and create the Connect America Fund (CAF) and the Mobility Fund. It also wants to design other “new USF funds in a tax-efficient manner.”

The FCC cites the success of Link-Up America in expanding telephone service to low-income households. Subscribership went from 80.1 percent in 1984 to 89.7 percent in 2008. (That’s a .4 percent per year growth rate.)

While working to ensure every single American has a home computer and broadband access, the FCC wants to create a “Digital Literacy Corps” to train people how to use the internet.

Although FCC staff wrote the National Broadband Plan, the agency states “the author of this plan is America, itself.” That’s because the FCC has held dozens of workshops, online conferences and public hearings that drew tens of thousands of participants and comments.

The FCC first presented its National Broadband Plan to Congress in March and has hosted panel discussions there this month.