Millions of Low Income Households Could Lose Internet Access Due to Government Shutdown

While pictures of long lines at the airport, trash heaps in national parks, and college athletes eating fast food at the White House have dominated news cycles surrounding the US government partial shutdown, one major federal program’s lack of funding has flown under the radar.

We’ve been researching how the government shutdown might affect the FCC and can report that in addition to a Net Neutrality rollback delay, we identified a federal program that is taking a huge hit.

The FCC’s ‘Lifeline’ program, which currently provides over 10 million US residents with subsidized internet and phone services, is currently unable to fund its grants that get low income houses access to high speed internet.

As an example, one grant that was set to be delivered to Missouri ISPs to provide service to low income households has currently been left unpaid due to the shutdown.

United Fiber, an ISP that focuses on connecting rural homes to faster internet, is currently waiting on a $20 million dollar grant to complete work that would give thousands of homes fast and affordable internet.

According to FCC data, 20% of Missouri citizens do not have access to high speed internet.

Across the nation, many of these grants sit pending and unpaid. The longer the shutdown lasts, the number of people who have access to high speed internet will continue to decline.

For now, the government shutdown will have the greatest effect on Lifeline expansion programs. But if it drags on much longer, it could also end up causing current participants in the Lifeline program to lose access to subsidized internet through regional internet providers.

In a broad stroke of dark comedy, we reached out to the FCC for comment, and got this in response:

In the event of a government shutdown due to a lapse in funding, the operations of the Federal Communications Commission will be limited. Messages will not be checked during this time. We regret any inconvenience.

Below is a map of state-by-state participation in the Lifeline program among eligible residents:

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We’ll keep reporting on how the shutdown is affecting internet access nationwide and update this article as news breaks.