I Took the #MobileOnly Challenge. It Was a Disaster.
One in 10 American adults, and 21 percent of lower-income Americans, are "smartphone dependent," meaning they rely solely on a phone for broadband access. Moreover, one out of four lower-income families with young children lack any reliable broadband at home. Consumer advocacy groups like Next Century Cities have invited participants to walk (or type) a mile in these Americans' shoes by spending one day using only mobile service.
Stereotypical phone-loving millennial that I am, I eagerly signed up.
Advocates have been urging people to go mobile only because the FCC has been making moves that would limit people's access to anything but mobile services. Last year, it proposed lowering broadband speed standards -- a proposal it walked back after public pressure. Now, it's proposing cuts to the Lifeline program. The Lifeline program keeps kids and parents connected by helping lower-income Americans access home broadband. But a new Federal Communications Commission proposal would take steps to cripple this invaluable program by implementing a hard budget cap and barring a majority of sellers from providing services to recipients. The proposal would also allow carriers to charge more for Lifeline devices with Wi-Fi and tethering capabilities, or not offer such devices at all, despite the fact that Wi-Fi and tethering capabilities are essential for a family's ability to access wireless internet and set up hotspots.
Going smartphone-only at work for only a day was even more difficult than I anticipated. Even with my advantage, I struggled to type on the Google Docs mobile app, cranking out only 10 words per minute. Features such as formatting or adding hyperlinks were so frustrating as to be completely out of the question. It's difficult to imagine a child collaborating with friends on a homework project, or a mother running a home business or taking an online course to improve her skills, on a tiny smartphone screen. Having the tethering capabilities that allow a mobile device to be used as a hotspot are invaluable if a parent or child wants to use a larger screen that isn't itself connected to broadband.
It's no surprise that ambitious but underprivileged kids are often forced to spend late nights at McDonald's to get online. And completing a lengthy research paper on a smartphone would be next to impossible for a kid, especially since many websites are still not mobile-friendly.
This experience illuminated for me the necessity of the Lifeline broadband program. And it is why Common Sense has filed comments opposing the proposal. You can pledge to try the #MobileOnly challenge yourself here. Even better, please tell your lawmakers in Congress to speak out against the FCC's harmful proposal that would make this challenge involuntary for millions of kids and parents.
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