By Hazel N. Dukes
Today’s world is increasingly dependent on the connections made possible by broadband. Without it, people find it difficult, if not impossible, to keep up and get ahead.
Students need wireless broadband access to learn and complete school assignments. Unemployed workers need it to open up job opportunities and communicate with employers. Just as important, our citizens need the emotional and physical security that comes with broadband access – the ability to stay in touch with loved ones, to consult with health care providers, to urgently call for emergency help.
For far too many New Yorkers, these connections are impossible. More than 1.8 million eligible New York households go without Lifeline, the free social welfare program that can bring them access to basic telecommunication services. This essential program was expanded under President Barack Obama, but it has been minimized under the Trump administration.
Not a single eligible telecommunications carrier designed to serve New Yorkers has been approved by the Federal Communications Commission, and limitations have been placed on how households can qualify for Lifeline. These restrictive actions have blocked so many low-income citizens from this essential service.
New York phone customers pay to fund Lifeline services, even though the program is underutilized in the state. With so many of our own people struggling without access to wireless broadband services, it makes no sense that New Yorkers should send thousands of dollars to help poor residents of other states.
That is a ridiculous injustice, and it must be stopped. Our people need these funds to be used for our Lifeline program, not helping others while they struggle without wireless broadband access.
It is evident that New Yorkers cannot look to Washington to end the injustice our people are facing. So the New York Legislature must act now to transfer the power from the Trump administration to the New York Public Service Commission. This action will not raise taxes or place new fees on any New Yorkers, but it will stop $330,000 of our money from being shipped from our state to other states.
Lifeline is often the only way for people in low-income households to stay connected to the modern world. People of color are disproportionately burdened by this digital divide, and they are trapped among the “have-nots” because of it.
Legislation taking back access and giving it to New Yorkers will allow our citizens safety, health, education and opportunity. Our people have a right to access. The Legislature needs to give it to them by taking back the power now.
Hazel N. Dukes is a civil rights activist and the president of the NAACP New York State Conference.