Lifeline is a federal program that subsidizes telecommunication services for low-income Americans. Some 43 percent of the nation’s low-income households can’t afford modern broadband internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Lifeline-eligible Burlington Telecom customers can apply for internet service of 25 megabits per second for $9.95 a month or a discount of $9.25 to any landline telephone or fixed broadband service. Consumers are eligible though income level or if they participate in another government assistance program.
City and state officials announced the news at Burlington City Hall on Wednesday.
Gov. Phil Scott said the expansion of Lifeline is important for the economy and growth of the state.
“Any time we can expand access to services such as the internet, it is beneficial for the state, and this program supports my goals to protect our most vulnerable, as well as to create more opportunities for Vermonters,” he said.
Mayor Miro Weinberger said he is excited to have Burlington Telecom be the first provider to offer internet through Lifeline.
Burlington Telecom General Manager Stephen Barraclough called the expansion part of the company’s efforts to give back to the city.
“The team at BT has worked hard to restore both its financial and operational health over the last seven years, but the core of that effort is one word, and that word is ‘community,’” he said. “It’s based that on the founding premise that to be a great business, you have to be a good community partner.”
Barraclough said that trying to bridge the “digital divide” is a major focus for the telecommunications company. He called internet in the 21st century an essential comparable to electricity and water.
“No one in Burlington who has financial challenges should be without the internet,” he said.
Noelle MacKay, director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Office, said her department is assisting Burlington Telecom in helping residents join the program.
“This is a program about accessibility and equity and making sure that everyone has the opportunity and the resources they need to have a healthy and happy home life, and have access to all the economic opportunities that everyone else has,” MacKay said.
City Councilor Ali Dieng, P-Ward 7, said the program will provide an important service to low-income residents. He also serves at the leader of the Burlington School District’s Parent University program.
“Internet connectivity is about greater opportunity,” Dieng said.
Kim Anderson, director of development and communications for Community Health Centers of Burlington, said the program will greatly benefit the centers’ clients.
“By adding this program tool to our arsenal, we’re able to give any of our 30,000 patients communication with their doctor, they can refill their prescriptions, they can view their lab results all using our online patient portal,” Anderson said.
City and telecom officials were unable to provide an estimate of how many residents might benefit from the Lifeline program, nor how many Burlingtonians do not have internet access.
Burlington is currently seeking a new owner for Burlington Telecom. The city is required to sell the municipally owned telecommunication company as part of a 2014 settlement with Citibank, the company’s main creditor. Burlington is expected to keep a greater portion of the proceeds if the sale can be completed by January. The city can also retain partial ownership.
The city has been hearing bids in private, a decision Weinberger has said puts Burlington in a stronger negotiating position. The city released some details about the finalists on Monday.
The mayor said he is optimistic the Lifeline program will continue with the new owner. He told reporters after the news conference that the tentative agreement with the next owner will be made public two weeks prior to council action.
The city is aiming to file a purchase and sale agreement with the Public Utility Commission on Oct. 9.
More information about the Lifeline program is available at burlingtontelecom.com or 802-540-0007.
(Correction: Noelle MacKay’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.)