Why Deny the Poor Access to Telephone Service and the Internet?

lifeline solicitation-500x654Ocean Springs    We can say with confidence and without fear of correction that the coming year will see yet more full scale battles in the war against the poor.

Anyone can make that list.  Certainly it starts with the headliners right now as extended unemployment benefits are being terminated, food stamps are still on the chopping block in the farm bill, and vast hordes are still lined up nationally and state by state building obstacles to access to affordable healthcare.

And, just to pick one example, if you aren’t poor yet, look at the risks in front of you if you are a regular working stiff and don’t have health insurance according to reports from health actuaries.  The average American under 65 years of age will have a healthcare bill of $2700 this year.  5% of Americans will have really bad luck and equally bad health and end up with $47000 worth of health bills, pushing you lower down the economic ladder.  20% will have bills of $13,300 which would be devastating to many.  Yet, we have people saying, go naked with no insurance?  And, I’m not even talking about the problems of low wage jobs or unaffordable housing.  Pick your poison.

Nor do there seem to be limits on how many battles can be waged against the poor.

In Georgia, for example, advocates joined by the telephone industry itself had to sue to temporarily stop the legislature from trying to put a $5 per month fee on the bills for free telephones enabled by the FCC for 15 million lower income Americans.  These “lifeline” phones only give 250 minutes per month of time, but are what they claim, a lifeline for those who can’t afford them but need the ability to make doctor’s appointments, call ambulances, and handle the basic requirements of life.  Some of the howlers are so concerned that someone may have snuck one of these phones who didn’t qualify that they want to pretend that punishing the poor might be the way to stop it, as if a scamster wouldn’t be equally able to go for $5 bucks on that fraud.

Why slap the hand of the FCC on one of the few things they are doing right for the poor, especially given the spectacular failure of the FCC’s $10 per month internet access program for the poor with Comcast and other companies, who continue to promise the sky and deliver spit?  The fact that Cox and Times-Warner delivered even less is small comfort.  No sense pretending that there is a fair shot at the poor pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.  First, they don’t have boots, and then no internet either.

This is an issue throughout North America:

According to Statistics Canada, 54% of households in the lowest quartile of $30,000 or less do not have home internet access. This is roughly consistent with a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Commerce that finds 57% of homes earning less than $25,000 have no computer and that only 43% have home internet, compared with 93% with household income over $100,000.

That number was quoted in a piece  advocating support of ACORN International and ACORN Canada’s digital divide campaign.

About the only protection low income families have now is from the NSA and the spying machine since they aren’t on the internet and might not be on phones enough either. Small comfort.  Maybe it’s time to stop the war on the poor and do something different?

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