News & Politics

Trump FCC Tries to Cut Telecommunications Service Access for 369,000 Puerto Ricans

Its literally trying to roll back a program called Lifeline.

FCC Chair Ajit Pai.
Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

While it was it a natural disaster in the form of Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico, it is the Trump administration that is unnecessarily making the situation into a catastrophe. For nearly eight months after the storm, the island has experienced one setback after another—many of which have been the result of gross negligence, incompetence, and downright malice. And while they should be trying to make life better for residents of Puerto Rico, the administration is actively trying to make it worse, this time by cutting off access to telecommunications services.

As reported in The HillThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is opting to move ahead with changes to the Lifeline program.

The Lifeline program, created in 1985 during the Reagan administration, is the only federal program that helps connect poor and marginalized communities to telecommunications services.

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Lifeline provides access to affordable broadband and voice for nearly 13 million Americans by providing a modest subsidy of $9.25 a month to help ease the high-cost of communications for individuals and families living on the margins, providing a means to participate in our digital society.

If Trump’s FCC does implement these changes, it would mean that more than 369,000 Lifeline customers in Puerto Rico would lose access to affordable voice, wireless, and internet services. In 2017, prior to the hurricane season, more than 500,000 homes on the island participated in the Lifeline program. Though the administration thinks that these things are luxuries which can be commodified, they are actually an important part of how we live our lives daily. In today’s world, these services are necessary for communication with others, employment, education, etc. Additionally, people use them to maintain communication with health providers and emergency responders.

And the timing of this could not be any worse. As The Hill notes, Puerto Rico is still rebuilding after the destruction of the 2017 hurricane, and June 1 marks the start of the next hurricane season.

Telecommunications are also critical to communities devastated by natural and other disasters. With the 2018 hurricane season around the corner, the last thing residents of Puerto Rico and other hurricane ravaged areas need, are measures that would disconnect them from lifesaving networks.

The FCC claims that making changes to the program will “stimulate investment in broadband networks” but experts note that there is no evidence to prove these claims. Amazing how our some in our government consistently demonstrate a willingness to make life good for the wealthy and business owners at all costs, while simultaneously screwing over the poor every chance they get. Too bad so many people continue to fall for it and vote for them.

Though changes to the Lifeline program will have a major impact on Puerto Ricans, it doesn’t stop there. This has the potential to harm Texans and Floridians who experienced a brutal hurricane season in 2017, and poor and marginalized communities across the country—the majority of whom are people of color. 

The FCC is proposing to:

  • artificially cap the program with a "self-enforcing budget" that ranks need based on location, deepening the urban versus rural digital divide
  • limit the availability of the modest subsidy by imposing a copay and a lifetime benefit
  • eliminate resellers, which provide services for 70 percent of current Lifeline subscribers.

All together the proposals would cut off over 8 million Lifeline customers, exacerbate the challenges faced by needy Americans and, ultimately, widen the digital divide.

This is beyond cruelty. And for sure, it’s strategic and intentional. This government under Donald Trump will cut millions of poor and needy people off from vital communication and information. That is the exact opposite of making America great. But it is yet another step toward lining the pockets of Trump’s wealthy friends. Sadly, this will result in one more disaster for the rest of us—and especially for Puerto Ricans.  

 

Kelly Macias is a staff writer at Daily Kos focusing on racial justice, social justice and gender issues.