Shaheen & Hassan Urge Service Providers to Expand Internet Access for Low-Income Americans Throughout COVID-19 Crisis
Senators urge Lifeline internet service providers to expand service to ensure American families can work and learn remotely, access telehealth resources during this pandemic
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) sent a letter with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and their colleagues calling on Lifeline internet service providers to deliver better mobile internet service for low-income Americans impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Improved internet access would help American families better work and learn from home and access vital telehealth resources.
The federal Lifeline service program, administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), provides free and discounted voice, text and cellular internet service to 9 million low-income Americans.
In a series of letters to Lifeline internet service providers, the Senators wrote, “During this public health crisis, it is imperative that internet providers, like your company, act to ensure that the millions of American families who depend on the Lifeline program are not left behind by an ever-growing digital divide.”
Basic wireless Lifeline service currently only provides 3GB of data per month, enough data to read emails and access the web, but not enough to telework or access telehealth resources. Many Lifeline providers also do not enable Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities for their devices, preventing children and families from using devices with larger screens, like tablets, laptops and desktop computers to work or learn effectively from home.
The senators requested Lifeline service providers take a number of steps to expand their service:
- Enable hotspot access for all Lifeline subscribers, so they can connect laptops or tablets to smartphones that support this feature;
- Ensure all Lifeline subscribers have access to 4G service, where available, with at least the same speed and priority of service that other resellers of mobile services of that network offer to their customers;
- Provide no-cost upgrades to existing subscribers using older smartphones provided by the Lifeline provider that lack hotspot functionality;
- Allow consumers to roll over some or all of their voice minutes and data allowances from one month to the next;
- Work with their network operator — such as AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile, who have all pledged to help American families during this crisis — to substantially increase the monthly data allowance beyond 3 GB, at no cost to Lifeline subscribers; and
- Provide subscribers with clear instructions on how to access their smartphone hotspot capability, including via text message.
“As a Lifeline provider, you have a unique opportunity to improve the education, health and economic outcomes of your subscribers during this pandemic,” the Senators continued.
The senators requested responses from the internet service providers by April 8, 2020. The senators sent individual letters to the following Lifeline providers: Virgin Mobile, TracFone, Q Link Wireless LLC, Telrite Corporation, I-Wireless, Global Connection Inc of America, Sage Telecom Communications LLC, Boomerang Wireless LLC, Amerinex Communications Corp, American Broadband and Telecommunications Company, TruConnect Communications Inc., TAG Mobile LLC, Tempo Telecom LLC, Airvoice Wireless LLC, TerraCom Inc., Yourtel America Inc., True Wireless Inc., Assist Wireless LLC, Cintex Wireless LLC and New Phone Wireless LLC.
A digital copy of the letter text 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. 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.