Shaheen and Hassan Call for Boosted Lifeline Assistance Funding To Keep Americans Connected

April 15, 2020

“As our financial, educational, social, civic, and healthcare needs become more dependent on the internet during this crisis, Congress must commit to ensuring that no one loses connectivity.”

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) sent a letter with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and 24 of their colleagues calling on congressional leadership to commit at least $1 billion in funding for the Lifeline program in future coronavirus relief to meet the new connectivity needs of Americans. Since 1985, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Lifeline program has made basic internet and telephone service more affordable for low-income Americans.

“The Coronavirus and resulting public safety measures taken by states, municipalities, and vigilant citizens are a resounding demonstration of the importance of Lifeline and other FCC universal service programs,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). “Already, Lifeline provides millions of Americans with essential connections by providing free or discounted broadband and voice services. This meaningful assistance is needed now more than ever. Social distancing, school closures, layoffs, and shelter-in-place rules have spurred a dramatic new reliance on telework, distance education, online employment, and telehealth. No one should have to put their health at risk, lose employment, lose access to education, or face isolation because they cannot afford broadband.”

With tens of millions of Americans now working from home, going to school virtually, and using telehealth services, the Senators emphasized this funding is critically needed to improve the program’s level of service, expand choice of eligible broadband providers, and meet the surge of demand. The funding would also allow Lifeline to better advertise and process applications, so that Americans know this program is available to help them stay connected.

A copy of the full letter is available here.

Senators Shaheen and Hassan have been working across the aisle to ensure that Granite Staters are able to access critical online services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, Shaheen and Hassan sent a letter calling on Lifeline internet service providers to deliver better mobile internet service for low-income Americans impacted by the pandemic. Senators Shaheen and Hassan joined a bipartisan group of their colleagues in urging the FCC to increase support to health care providers through the Rural Health Care Program to help them deliver and expand telehealth services for rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senators also joined their colleagues in calling on the FCC to help provide Wi-Fi hotspots or devices with Wi-Fi capability to students who lack internet access at home.

Additionally, Senator Hassan has worked to fix the FCC’s flawed broadband coverage maps and expand broadband coverage to underserved areas. Senator Hassan successfully called on the FCC to extend the deadline for communities to challenge the accuracy of broadband coverage maps. Senator Hassan also joined in sending a bipartisan letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai advocating for an additional public feedback mechanism that would utilize crowdsourced data to empower consumers and states to help inform broadband coverage maps and report any lack of broadband access to the FCC. In December, Senators Shaheen and Hassan joined their colleagues to urge the FCC to prioritize sustainable rural broadband networks as the FCC considers new rules in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund proceeding.