A federal program meant to help companies provide affordable Internet access to low-income consumers says nine of its participants won’t be allowed to assist in the initiative.
According to The Chicago Tribune, the move, announced Friday by FCC chairman Ajit Pai, reverses his Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler’s decision and undercuts he companies’ ability to provide low-cost Internet access to poorer Americans.
The move also comes just weeks after those companies had been given the green light.
“These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward,” Pai said.
The program, known as Lifeline, provides registered households with a credit of $9.25 per month towards its home Internet service. As many as 13 million Americans who do not have broadband home service may be affected by the action. So far, roughly 900 service providers are participants in the Lifeline program.
Kajeet, Inc. was one of the companies originally granted permission to provide service through the program. Daniel Neal, the corporation’s founder, said the news comes as a blow.
“I’m most concerned about the children we serve,” he said. “We partner with school districts – 41 states and the District of Columbia – to provide educational broadband so that poor kids can do their homework.”
Pai, who became chairman last month, has made closing the digital divide a central axis of his policy agenda. The majority of Americans have access to the Internet, but a distinct gap in U.S. broadband penetration remains, particularly among seniors, minorities and the poor.
Text of the decision reveals that as many as eight other companies are also subject to the FCC’s reversal. The agency has 30 days from the date of decision to freely consider moves it’s made on the matter.