There’s a lot of talk in 2022 about “internet inclusivity” in Oregon, and now a federal program is available to western Washington County residents that provides eligible “income-restrained” families with as much as $30 per month — $75 on tribal lands — to apply toward the cost of internet service or a cell phone service plan.
The news section of the City of Banks’ website includes a link to information about the program, called “Lifeline,” at Xfinity.com where a webpage says the company is participating in the program “as part of our ongoing commitment to keep you connected.”
To qualify, one household member must be a participant in Medicaid, SNAP, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, the Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit, the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, or have income that is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or received a federal Pell Grant in the current award year.
“Certain qualifying information” about applications will be shared with the federal government in determining eligibility, Xfinity’s website says.
How is the program funded?
The Lifeline program is derived from the “universal service” principle, part of the Communications Act of 1934 that was implemented to make telephone service ubiquitous, especially in rural, remote areas. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 expanded that principle to include internet service and to address what has become known as the Digital Divide — a haves-and-have-nots description of those who live in areas with high-speed internet access and those who don’t, or those who can afford it and those who can’t.
Telecommunications carriers are required to pay a percentage of their interstate and international end-user revenues into the Universal Service Fund (USF). Typically, multi-billion-dollar telecom companies recoup this percentage by charging consumers — many Washington County residents may notice a “universal service” line item charge on their monthly bills — but no federal mandate requires them to do so.
In 2020, individual consumers paid into the Oregon USF through an 8.5 percent surcharge on all retail telecommunications sales, and also paid about 23 percent into the Federal USF, or about $2.10.
Looking at just one internet service provider, Xfinity, in the fourth quarter of 2021 the company reported consolidated revenue of $30.3 billion. Oregon’s population in 2021 was 4,266,560. If each person in Oregon that year paid $2.10 into the USF, the total contribution would be about $9 million. If Xfinity paid for the contribution out of its own pocket, so to speak, it would have amounted to about .03 percent of the company’s 2021 fourth-quarter consolidated revenue.
To apply for the Lifeline benefit visit www.lifeline.oregon.gov or call the Oregon Public Utilities Commission Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at 1-800-848-4442.
Xfinity is one of several companies participating in the program. Other providers with a presence in western Washington County taking part in the program include Ziply Fiber, CenturyLink, AT&T Mobility, and US Cellular.