Access Now and Consumer Reports call for FCC to expand broadband access in response to COVID-19 crisis

Correction: May 15: At publication, Access Now and Consumer Reports call for FCC to expand broadband access in response to COVID-19 crisis, erroneously stated the number of petition signatures as 63,000. The correct number is 50,000 and has been updated in this text.

The nonprofit organizations Access Now and Consumer Reports are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to immediately expand broadband internet access for people struggling during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The organizations today are filing petitions at the FCC signed by more than 50,000 concerned citizens. The petitions call for the FCC and Congress to support an expansion of the Lifeline program that provides a discount for broadband internet service to qualifying low-income consumers. 

This move would make an enormous difference to families who need help during the crisis to stay connected with school, work, healthcare, and job opportunities, the groups said.  

The disparity in access to essential communication tools is a deplorable failure to protect the fundamental rights and health of people in the U.S.,” said Jennifer Brody, U.S. Legislative Manager at Access Now. “Over 33.5 million Americans and counting have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and may not be able to pay their internet bill. This is unacceptable.”

Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports, said, “The current crisis has painfully laid bare the haves and the have-nots on either side of the digital divide. A substantial majority of Americans—four out of every five—agree that internet service is as important as water and electricity, according to a Consumer Reports survey taken last month. Yet, too many Americans don’t have access to the internet or can’t afford one. Tens of thousands of consumers agree that the FCC should do more to make broadband internet service more accessible and affordable when online access is more important than ever.”

In a joint letter to the FCC, the groups said: “Millions of people in the United States must stay home in order to limit the spread of COVID-19, and without internet access, communities at risk who were already struggling economically will be hit the hardest by this national emergency. It is up to you to ensure that everyone can afford critical communication services during this devastating crisis.  Unfortunately, the current pandemic has exposed just how pervasive and persistent the digital divide is in 2020.”

The groups note their appreciation for the FCC’s early action to commit internet service providers to the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which ensures consumers who cannot keep current on their monthly service bills will not see their service terminated. But they emphasize that more can and should be done.

A new House coronavirus stimulus package introduced this week includes funding for an Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund that would provide a $50 a month subsidy for broadband Internet access service for low-income households and others who have experienced a substantial loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The bill would also provide new funds to support internet-connected devices for K-12 students under the FCC’s E-Rate program, which provides funding for connectivity to schools and libraries. 

Access Now and CR will continue to press regulators and lawmakers to advance these types of initiatives to help the most marginalized Americans access the internet.