The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is threatening drastic cuts to the Lifeline program, which subsidizes phone and internet service for millions of low-income Americans, but New York City Councilman Kalman Yeger (Midwood, Boro Park, Bensonhurst) is vowing to stand up for his constituents who depend on the program.
“Lifeline is appropriately named; it is a truly a lifeline for those in our community who cannot afford vital phone and internet service,” Yeger said. “Many of our neighbors need these subsidies to be able to do school work or talk to their family, or, chas v’shalom, call an ambulance in case of a medical emergency. We have to fight for them.”
The Lifeline program was established under President Ronald Reagan in 1985 so that all Americans could reach the opportunity and security that phone service provides. Today it supplies a $9.25 monthly household subsidy to over 1 million New Yorkers.
Late last year, the FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai voted to cap the overall budget of Lifeline and place significant restrictions on subsidies, including banning phone providers that resell network access instead of owning and operating their own networks. Approximately 70% of all Lifeline recipients use resell networks like Tracfone’s Safelink Wireless or Virgin Mobile’s Assurance Wireless, according to advocacy group Public Knowledge. All of those users would need to switch to a more expensive facilities-based network, like Verizon or AT&T.
“Lifeline is only a $9.25 subsidy; switching to a service like AT&T could cost customers much more than that,” Yeger said. “With this change, Lifeline would effectively become unavailable to those who need the service.”
The FCC’s changes come on the heels of Chairman Pai’s controversial move to end net neutrality, which would allow internet providers to charge higher rates depending on which websites a customer visits.
“The FCC seems to be on a mission to hurt Americans,” said Yeger. “First, it aligned with big business friends to destroy net neutrality, and now the important Lifeline program is on the chopping block. Government is not supposed to hurt people, and I wish the FCC would understand that.”
Yeger will have the opportunity to question an FCC representative on Thursday, February 15th, when the Council’s Committee on Technology holds an oversight hearing on the proposed changes. Councilman Peter Koo (Flushing, Murray Hill, Queensboro Hill), who chairs the Committee, is another advocate for Lifeline users.
“I have personally seen the positive effects of the Lifeline program, particularly in how it is used by low-income immigrant senior citizens,” Koo said. “Many of these senior citizens are scraping by on fixed incomes with multiple medical appointments that are only made possible through the benefits of the Lifeline service. Cutting back this program would add significant burdens to thousands of elderly New Yorkers, so it is important that our constituents are aware of this opportunity to weigh in on its merits.”
In advance of next week’s meeting, Yeger hopes to hear from constituents who make use of the Lifeline program and who want to know if they will be hurt by the new changes. Ask questions or tell your story by calling Yeger’s office at (718) 853-2704 or by emailing him at AskKalman@council.nyc.gov.
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)