Low-income families will now be eligible for a monthly government subsidy to pay for high-speed Internet service following an FCC vote Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports. The 3-2 vote (three Democratic commissioners for, two Republican commissioners against) expands the 30-year-old Lifeline program that provides subsidies for phone service. Commissioners voting for the proposal argue that Internet access is necessary to compete in the modern economy and increasingly needed by students for homework assignments. "There was a time when broadband access was a luxury," the Hill quotes commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. "No more." The FCC estimates 95% of households earning more than $150,000 per year have high-speed Internet, while only half of households earning less than $25,000 per year have it.
Under the program, low-income households will receive $9.25 per month to spend on phone, Internet, or both. Families should be able to use their Lifeline subsidies on Internet starting in December. The program spent $1.5 billion to provide phone service for 13 million people in 2015. The proposal to add Internet service to the program increased the budget to $2.25 billion, which the FCC believes should allow for another 7 million enrollees. Lifeline is funded by a monthly fee on phone bills. Republicans have argued the program is too expensive and growing too fast. One commissioner who voted against the proposal tells Reuters it will "balloon a program plagued by waste, fraud, and abuse."