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Broadband Added to Discount Options for Lower-Income Consumers

Public News Service

In March, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to modernize its Lifeline program, which offers lower-income households a discount on one telecommunications service.

Broadband becomes a choice Dec. 2. Eligible consumers currently can apply their subsidy to voice service for either a landline or wireless telephone. The FCC added broadband in an effort to close the digital divide.

Andrew Melnykovych, director of communications for the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC), said time will tell if many Kentuckians make the switch to pure broadband.

"It's unclear whether or not you will have providers that are going to be offering that required level of service for that amount or whether it's simply going to be a discount on that level of service," he said.

The Lifeline program provides a monthly subsidy of up to $12.75 for a single telephone line. The federal government covers $9.25 of the discount, the state the other $3.50. Melnykovych said because the PSC does not regulate broadband, a consumer who switches to that telecom service would not receive the state subsidy.

There's also another change coming to Lifeline, how eligibility is verified. Melnykovych said as the federal government lays the groundwork for a single national database, participation in some assistance programs will no longer suffice as proof of eligibility.

"The idea is not to kick people off the Lifeline program, it's to simply streamline the verification process to make sure that there isn't fraud and abuse going on in the program," he explained.

Melnykovych said programs such as SNAP and Medicaid, as well as the benefits program for veterans, will continue to be used to determine eligibility. According to the PSC, which tracks the state portion of the telephone discount, 160,000 Kentuckians are receiving the subsidy.