Padilla Introduces Bicameral Bill to Increase Access to Internet and Communications Services for Low-Income Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C. — During Digital Inclusion Week, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (D-Ill.-02) introduced a bicameral bill that would increase access to Internet and telephone services for low-income urban and rural Americans. The Promoting Access to Broadband Act would help states increase awareness and enrollment in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline program and Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provide a monthly subsidy to help low-income households pay for their broadband and telephone service.

“Access to high-speed Internet and communication services is essential infrastructure. As the COVID-19 pandemic made abundantly clear, we urgently need to expand Internet access to bridge the digital divide,” said Senator Padilla. “We have effective programs in place to address Internet disparities in low-income and underserved communities, but too many eligible Californians remain unenrolled. This legislation would bring together states, non-profits, and community-based organizations to help American families enroll in these crucial Internet and telephone programs.”

Along with Padilla and Durbin, the Promoting Access to Broadband Act is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, in 2022, one in every five households lacked access to broadband at home, and a 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that 27 percent of non-broadband users cited cost as the most important reason they do not have broadband at home.

ACP has made strides to close the digital divide with 21 million households enrolled in the program, including more than 2.5 million households in California. However, experts estimate that an additional 27 million households are eligible for the program. Further, participation in the Lifeline program has dropped in recent years and remains extremely low nationwide. The Universal Service Administrative Company estimates the number of eligible households participating in Lifeline nationwide is just 26 percent in California.

Specifically, the Promoting Access to Broadband Act would:

  1. Award grants to at least five states;
  2. Direct the FCC to consider several factors in evaluating applications, including states with a higher number of covered individuals, states with plans with the potential to reach a higher percentage of eligible-but-not-enrolled households, and geographic diversity;
  3. Allow states to use the funds to inform Medicaid enrollees, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants, and low-income individuals of potential eligibility, provide information on how to apply for Lifeline and ACP, and partner with non-profit and community-based organizations to assist individuals applying for Lifeline and ACP; and
  4. Require the FCC to issue a report to Congress within a year of establishing the grant program evaluating the grant’s effectiveness.  

To be eligible for these programs, an individual must have an income at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines for the Lifeline program and at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines for ACP. Enrollees also are eligible if they qualify for a needs-based program, such as Medicaid or SNAP, or receive Supplemental Security Income, federal public housing assistance, or Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefits.

The bill has earned endorsements from Third Way, Public Knowledge, NCLC, on behalf of its low-income clients, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, ACLU, Common Sense Media, and Free Press.

Earlier this year, Padilla announced over $1.8 billion in funding for broadband access in California through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

Full text of the bill is available here.


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