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Coronavirus Roundup: Legislators, FCC Commissioner Seek More Attention to Lifeline, Microsoft Promotes Library Wi-Fi

David Jelke



Photo of Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois

Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Reps. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., along with 140 colleagues in both the House and Senate, urged Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to work directly with the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to ensure that the millions of Americans now eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or Medicaid due to job loss or reduction in income are informed that they are also eligible for the FCC’s Lifeline program.

The Lifeline program is the primary federal program charged with helping low-income families obtain broadband and telephone services.

“While we understand that the FCC has traditionally issued guidelines for states and telecommunications providers to advertise the Lifeline program, given the critical role of internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic, we urge the FCC to coordinate directly with USDA and HHS as well as states and stakeholders to help ensure people in need are informed about their eligibility for the Lifeline program," the letter reads.

The letter is also supported by Public Knowledge, the National Consumers Law Center, United Church of Christ, OC Inc., and Third Way.

Within agency, FCC Commissioner Starks encourages efforts to promote Lifeline

Meanwhile, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks made the following remarks on Monday reacting to a group of senators’ letter urging the FCC to better advertise the Lifeline program.

Lifeline is the only federal program with the sole mission of bringing affordable communications to low-income Americans, and it is a critical aspect of our social safety net during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, we know that the number of Americans enrolling in the Lifeline program has remained relatively flat during this crisis, especially in comparison to the surging SNAP applications.

Public Library Association and Microsoft promote internet access in rural communities

The Public Library Association and Microsoft announced a new initiative to increase access to technology in rural communities during the COVID-19 crisis, according to a Tuesday press release.

Microsoft will provide funding to help public libraries in rural communities extend Wi-Fi access by installing public Wi-Fi access points on or near library grounds. According to a recent survey of public library responses to COVID-19, less than 40 percent of public libraries have located Wi-Fi access points outside their buildings, and only 8 percent reported trying to expand that service.

Through this effort, PLA and Microsoft aim to accelerate the deployment of Wi-Fi access points outside of libraries, particularly those in rural areas that lack widespread high-speed internet access.

Rural public libraries in 28 states served by Airband and TechSpark will be eligible to apply through PLA to receive hardware and support to establish public Wi-Fi access points. PLA and Microsoft are providing free digital skilling resources that libraries and the communities they serve can access during and after the crisis.

This offering is part of PLA’s DigitalLead: Rural Libraries Creating New Possibilities program, a Microsoft-supported effort to help rural libraries with technology equipment and skills-based resources.


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