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9 firms blocked from providing cheap internet

SAN FRANCISCO — A handful of service providers are no longer able to participate in a federal program that provides low-income people with cheap internet access, the FCC said on Friday.

Regulators told nine companies they can’t take part in the Lifeline broadband program just weeks after they were approved.

The federal Lifeline program, established in 1985, provides discounted phone and internet service for people in poorer communities to connect with family and access resources for jobs and education. The FCC expanded the program to include broadband last year, and now gives participating households a $9.25 per month credit they can use for internet access.

The status of the nine companies will be changed to “pending,” and the FCC will reconsider their participation in the program. Regulators had approved four of those companies on December 1 and five on January 18.

Reconsidering the petitions will “promote program integrity” and give the FCC “additional time to consider measures that might be necessary to prevent further waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program,” the FCC wrote.

Mobile broadband company Kajeet works with over 300 school districts in 41 states and Washington D.C. to provide students with internet if they don’t have it at home. Kajeet is a solution for the digital divide — its take-home hotspots filter out things like Facebook and Netflix, and let kids connect to resources for homework.

About five million households with school age children don’t have internet access, according to the Pew Research Center.

Regulators approved Kajeet’s participation in the Lifeline program in January, but Friday’s order means it will now be reconsidered.

Kajeet founder and CEO Daniel Neal said participating in the Lifeline program would have been an opportunity to bring internet to more students. Now the company hopes school districts and partners will get creative in finding additional sources of funding.

The FCC rescinding its participation “constrains the potential pot of funds to help poor kids do their homework,” Neal told CNNTech.

“We’re going to continue to work productively with school districts and public agencies that are able to provide funding,” he said. “We hope that will be expanded to include the Lifeline broadband program.”