The "digital divide" describes the gulf between technology's haves and have-nots. It arose in the 1990s when access to computers and the Internet became an economic necessity.
According to the FCC, in 2012, about 65% of all Americans had broadband access at home, but only 40% of households with less than $20,000 in annual income had broadband. Half of all Hispanics and 41% of African-American homes lack broadband.
For many years, FCC officials and other policy makers have said they want to get computing devices into the hands of every American. They want to bridge the digital divide so that all American can apply for jobs online and benefit from the educations opportunities that the Internet provides.
This week, the FCC voted to approve a proposal to explore subsidizing broadband Internet for poor Americans. Tom Wheeler, FCC chairman, introduced the plan last month, which according to Rebecca R. Ruiz of The New York Times, "helps pave the way for sweeping changes to a $1.7 billion phone subsidy program."
A phone subsidy has existed since 1985 when President Reagan introduced a program called Lifeline. Currently, Lifeline provides $9.25 a month to help poor families pay for a phone line.
Republicans have opposed both extending Lifeline and the idea of an Internet subsidy for poor Americans. They cite possible fraud as a reason not to provide them.
"Adequate controls and deterrents against waste, fraud and abuse should be in place before considering expanding the program to broadband," Michael O'Rielly, a Republican FCC commissioner told The New York Times.
The new plan includes some antifraud measures, "including new record-keeping requirements for service providers, who are charged with verifying a person's income - are expected to take effect this summer," writes Ruiz.
"Students who lack regular broadband access are struggling to keep up," Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic FCC commissioner, told The New York Times, noting that as many as 7 in 10 teachers assign homework that requires online connectivity. "Now is not a moment too soon, because this is about the future."
How much can $9.25 a month per family help in providing broadband? That is a question the regulators are now trying to address.