The FCC continues its war on internet access for Native Americans
As reported by Gizmodo, Ajit Pai and his henchmen at the FCC are continuing their assault on the rights of Native Americans to have access to phones and the internet. Last year, the FCC voted to increase the hurdles for Natives to receive subsidies for broadband internet services. At the time, the 3-2 vote was merely a part of the commission’s attempt to cut back its Lifeline program, which provides communities with money to cover the costs of phone and internet connections.
As Ars Technica reported, Lifeline is a program which is largely funded through fees on American phone bills, which uses the federal standard for the poverty line to determine who is eligible for its subsidies. However, Pai and his FCC cohorts have voted several times to limit the ability of Lifeline to provide much needed assistance for poor communities and people to receive the money needed to retain internet and phone services.
As the petition filed by several Native tribes and the smaller phone companies who use Lifeline states:
[A]pproximately two-thirds of eligible low-income consumers on Tribal lands have chosen non-facilities-based ETCs [eligible telecommunications carriers] as their Lifeline provider, demonstrating the overwhelming success of the model… At the same time, facilities-based wireless carriers have retreated from the Lifeline program across the country, including in many states home to American Indian tribes like [petitioner] Crow Creek [in South Dakota]. In more than a dozen states, AT&T and Verizon relinquished their status as ETCs. AT&T and Verizon continue to apply for and receive permission to relinquish their ETC status in additional states, and stopped applying for ETC status in new states long ago.
Effectively, this means that the “facilities based” programs that the FCC references in their refusal of the petition don’t even exist for Lifeline customers. Instead, the FCC is asking Native communities who wish to use subsidies to accept a lesser subsidy of $9.25, instead of the $25 they were receiving, and the $9.25 may not cover internet and phone access, even in a larger city.
In addition, T-Mobile has ceased participating in Lifeline, citing that the program was not valuable to its base of subscribers. Sprint does not operate in tribal lands. This means that people on reservations are basically locked out of any of the four major telecommunications companies and have to rely on resellers.
These moves are compounded by statistics from the Bureau of Labor, which lists tribal residents as the lowest employed racial or ethnic group of any in America. A Pew Research study also found that about one in every four Native Americans is living in poverty, with this figure worsening if they live on a reservation instead of in a city.
Clearly, Ajit Pai and the FCC are not above erasing the ability of poorer communities from having access to the internet and phones. There is a court case pending, but it is still likely that this change will be approved by the US Office of Management and Budget in October, which will leave an already oppressed population in deeper despair.