Saturday, December 10, 2022

Guest Blogger: Mónica Ramírez, President of Justice for Migrant Women, ‘It’s Time to Reform the Universal Service Fund: Migrant Women Depend on it’

Connectivity is a necessity to participate in today’s society. For vulnerable populations like migrant women and families, dependable phone and internet access can be a gateway to earning an education, accessing healthcare, and keeping connected to real-time information and support services.

At Justice for Migrant Women, we are committed to advancing the human and civil rights of migrant women and their families. That’s why we’re concerned that the Universal Service Fund (USF) – a pool of telecommunication subsidies that millions rely on – is unsustainable.

USF programs benefit those most impacted by connectivity challenges. These groups include individuals with less education and earnings, communities of color, rural and Tribal residents, and others. Migrant women are among those most affected by connectivity challenges because many of them live in rural communities, some have lower levels of education and a large number of them are employed in lower incomes.

Created decades ago, the USF supports connectivity programs like Lifeline, E-Rate, and the Rural Health Care Program. One program in particular, Lifeline, plays a unique role in keeping migrant communities connected by delivering phone benefits for enrollees. Those within migrant communities – as well as other vulnerable groups – rely on USF programs like these to access to healthcare, employment, safe shelters, emergency services, and more.

The current system in place for funding the Universal Service Fund isn’t sustainable, and many USF programs migrant women depend on are at risk. As our nation’s connectivity needs increase, so too should the pool of USF funds available for connectivity benefits. That has not been the case. As technology has evolved, the USF has stayed the same – and USF’s revenues are now in decline.

Here’s the good news: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) already has the authority to fix the USF, and they do not need approval from Congress to act. We need a permanent solution as soon as possible so migrant women and families don’t lose access to reliable phone and internet service that in turn provides the support needed to lead safe and live healthy lives.

We urge the Commission to identify long-term funding mechanisms to keep the USF operating, including by expanding the USF’s contribution base so everyone pays their fair share. Simply put, without vital services like Lifeline, migrant women are at risk.

The ability to act is in the FCC’s hands. The USF must evolve to meet the needs of the migrant women who depend on its programs. We cannot let life-saving USF offerings like Lifeline and others fade away. Now is the time to reform the Universal Service Fund so everyone has a lifeline, because migrant women depend on it.

Justice For Migrant Women