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Mignon Clyburn, Digital Divide is Widening for Low Income Americans

On March 20th, 2018, at the New School’s Digital Equity Laboratory, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn spoke about the digital divide and the need for every American, regardless of economic status, to have access to affordable high-speed internet. She talked about digital redlining, the Lifeline Program, the effects of not allowing consumer privacy for public usage, and net neutrality.

Clyburn on FCC Chairman Pai’s Vision for the Lifeline Program

Broadband internet access is important service to everyone, not just high and middle income families. As healthcare, employment, education, and government services are migrating online, the Lifeline Program becomes even more essential to low-income families. During the session, Clyburn expressed concern with the direction FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has taken with revoking the providers’ authorizations to provide service without notice, establishing caps on Lifeline, and banning wireless resellers from participating in the Lifeline program.

Digital Redlining of Low Income Americans

Unfortunately, because the largest internet providers mainly focus their attention and investments in high income urban, suburban, and middle-income neighborhoods, low-income and poverty-stricken areas are often left out from initiatives to grow and connect. Cyburn cites research revealing that “over 24 million people in the U.S. are without affordable, high-speed internet.” She continues, stating that, “according to the Pew Research Center, only 54% of African Americans and 50% of Latinos, subscribe to a home broadband service, compared to 72% of White Americans. When I look at these numbers, I can’t help but wonder if what we are seeing is in fact, another form of redlining: digital redlining.

Closing the Digital Divide in Lifeline

In opposition to the FCC efforts that damage the effectivity of the Lifeline Program on closing the digital divide, large telecom companies like Sprint and Verizon have voiced their concerns. The role that Lifeline plays in closing the digital divide is weakened by the changes that have been proposed for the Program in recent months. Commissioner Clyburn echoed these concerns and is aware of the importance of striving for digital equity, concluding that “The goal is, and should be, equal and affordable access.”

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