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The Fate of Net Neutrality Hinges on the House

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Last September, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and destroyed the island’s communications infrastructure.

Now, more than six months later, many of the island’s households are without power. There are still areas without cellphone service and many households have no home internet access.

Yet as Puerto Rico braces for another potentially brutal hurricane season, the Trump FCC plans to add to the devastation by dismantling the Lifeline program and disconnecting hundreds of thousands of people.

A heartless plan

Lifeline provides a modest $9.25 monthly subsidy so that millions of people living below the poverty line can connect to vital communications services. The program is subsidized by telecom providers, not taxpayer dollars.

But under Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership, the FCC has proposed a heartless plan to gut the program — a plan that critics from across the political spectrum oppose. The plan to dismantle Lifeline would cut off hundreds of thousands of people struggling to recover in hurricane-stricken areas like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While the FCC has taken some steps to mitigate the communications crisis in Puerto Rico, the proposed changes to the Lifeline program will undermine that progress. 

Harming the most vulnerable communities

Lifeline is designed to ensure that low-income families are able to access emergency services. Currently, nearly 3.5 million people live in Puerto Rico and more than 500,000 households subscribe to Lifeline. If the FCC implements its proposed rollback, 75 percent of the island’s Lifeline recipients could be disconnected.

As Puerto Ricans anxiously await the 2018 hurricane season they need assurance that they’ll continue to have affordable access to communications services, and the ability to communicate with emergency responders and loved ones in the event of another hurricane.

To disconnect people who are already struggling to recover from a devastating hurricane year would be unconscionable.

Pai’s plan also departs from past FCC policy on hurricane recovery. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the FCC expanded the Lifeline program to better serve people displaced by the storm.

Lifeline remains an indispensable tool for disaster victims both during relief efforts and in preparation for future storms.

FCC Chairman Pai has spent the last year talking about how the FCC will finally close the digital divide, but his plan to destroy Lifeline would rob millions of poor people, people of color, veterans, the elderly and people with disabilities of the ability to afford phone and internet access. We must reject this heartless, pointless proposal and hold the FCC accountable for its responsibility to public service.

This is a life-and-death issue: Tell the FCC to ditch its plan and leave Lifeline alone.

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