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Leroy Jones, Jr. is the creator of Talking Technology with Leroy Jones, Jr.

Why Free Data Means Better Mobile for All

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One of today's best trends in wireless can be summed up in one word: "free."  Mobile users have seen a growing array of choices allowing them to stream many popular websites and content at no charge to their data plans.

 

Known as "free data," these offerings from mobile carriers provide important benefits for low-income and minority communities who may struggle to afford mobile broadband. Additionally, programs like this help individuals in these communities gain better access to health care services on their mobile devices - heart and stroke monitoring, blood pressure and vision testing, and so much more.

 

So why is the FCC being so hesitant to embrace the free data offerings that are already delivering benefits to consumers and the marketplace?

 

The FCC's chair initially praised the free data concept last fall. But barely a month later, the Commission reversed course and launched an investigation into the practice. In the FCC's view, there's apparently a question as to whether giving something away free is a form of online discrimination.  Given their concern, I hope they'll read a new report on this subject from the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council.

 

The MMTC looked at free data's impact in several key areas including the digital divide, consumers who rely on mobile broadband, mobile innovation and consumer empowerment.  In each area, MMTC found that free data's benefits are "profound and wide-ranging."

 

Sponsored programs involving free data are likely to become an increasingly effective way to finance faster, more accessible broadband service for all.  On this point, the report notes:  "The actual contours of the free data plans are fluid, responsive to consumer demand, optional, and, unlike many other online offerings, they do not rely on targeted ads to pay for the data."

 

If the FCC wants to ensure more Americans can enjoy the benefits of mobile broadband, then it should not unnecessarily interfere with a program that is leading to more innovation and competition in the marketplace.

 

Everyone supports making broadband service faster and easier to access. But spreading this service everywhere is a pricey proposition. Free data is an excellent option to help pay for it.  The FCC should let it bloom.


LJJ

(TechnicalJones)


mHealth: Better Tools

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What is Lifeline?

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Moving Lifeline Forward

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Reform of the federal Lifeline program took an important and much-needed step forward earlier this month as Congress heard testimony about how to create a more effective system to help low-income consumers.

 

In one sense, the hearing was a deserved victory for recent efforts to improve the program.  Four years ago, Congress and the FCC took action to stop the program's spiraling problems of waste and fraud. Lifeline had become stereotyped more for its inefficiency than for its successes. As everyone recognized, those likely to be affected most by a continued lack of confidence in the program would be the low-income beneficiaries Lifeline was designed to help.

 

As Congress heard, the 2012 reform has produced tangible results. Annual program payments have dropped by more than 30% since 2012 as fraudulent and undeserving participants were dropped from the program.

 

But the hearing also put a necessary spotlight on the next logical part of Lifeline's reform: establishing an efficient verification system to keep out those who don't qualify.

 

Last month, the FCC began moving in the right direction with a new National Eligibility Verifier (NEV) to further control Lifeline's waste and abuse. The NEV is an independent third party that uses Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to determine eligibility.

 

Until now, Lifeline relied on wireless carriers to establish program verification and the problems with that have become increasingly clear.  Earlier this month, the FCC announced a $51 million fine against California-based Total Call Mobile for defrauding its Lifeline. The FCC claimed that the company enrolled tens of thousands of ineligible consumers, allegedly receiving nearly $10 million from the Lifeline program in improper payments.

 

Even beyond this, virtually no other carrier supported the system because it often put them in an unwinnable position of mediating qualification disputes between consumers and the Federal government.

 

Finally, no discussion of Lifeline can be complete without acknowledging the larger context around changing consumer demands and areas of greatest need.  Clearly, Lifeline's expanded focus on mobile broadband is proving correct.  Last December, the Center for Disease Control reported that almost half of all U.S. households were wireless-only and that the shift to mobile services has been even more prevalent among low-income Americans.

 

Millions of low-income Americans depend on the Lifeline program and Congress and the FCC deserve credit for improving it. The challenge now is to build on this success.


LJJ

(TechnicalJones)



mHealth: Heart, Tools & Loss

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