Democrats Want to Give Out Free Internet

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It seems the list of “essentials” is growing longer by the day. Once upon a time, liberals were happy to have the taxpayers pay for poverty-stricken Americans to access food, medicine, and housing. Conservatives have never been crazy about the social safety net, but we went along with it. Not even fierce individualists could turn their backs on children who didn’t get to choose where they were born. And even the most successful Republicans understood that everyone encounters hard times.

But today’s welfare goes far beyond the necessities. For years, the poor have been taking advantage of the “Obamaphone,” letting employed Americans pay for their cell service so they don’t have to miss out on the latest gossip. But the FCC has been thinking. And Chairman Tom Wheeler, fresh off his massive net neutrality victory, thinks it’s about time we make the internet free for those who don’t have enough money for the fastest speeds.

Wheeler’s proposal, unveiled Thursday, would expand the controversial Lifeline phone program to cover what’s being called the “digital divide” – the line between those with internet access and those without it. He wants the FCC to extend the monthly $9.25 low-income household credit to cover broadband internet access starting at 25 megabits per second. One would assume that these subsidies would be paid for in the same manner as Lifeline is funded now, which is through a surcharge on consumer phone bills.

Beyond the Breaking Point

Republicans will oppose this proposal, of course, but the fight over net neutrality proved that the FCC isn’t easily swayed by congressional arguments. Lifeline is already rife with fraud, but don’t expect that to stop Democrats from playing Robin Hood. This is another vote-buying measure meant to reach out to Americans who contribute nothing to the economy.

Unfortunately, most Republicans have lost the will to fight welfare on a principled basis. We rarely hear conservatives get up and preach the values of hard work and the importance of rising out of poverty. Instead, they attack these bills and proposals on the basis of their implementation, as if there is any good way to provide free internet access for millions of layabouts.

Only a fool would claim that internet access is equivalent to cable TV or video games; society has changed enough so that the inability to access the internet is a significant hurdle to overcome. That said, free internet already exists. It can be found at nearly every public library, and you can’t throw a rock without it landing in a free Wi-Fi zone. Many major ISPs also provide limited internet access for people from low-income households. It may not be lightning-fast, but it’s good enough to check email. Or, you know, browse the local job listings.

Where does it end? At what point do we say, ok, that’s enough? Do we owe poor people free transportation? Do we owe them free movie tickets? Free weed? Maybe instead of making it easier to live like a pauper, we should leave some incentives for people to make something more of themselves.