NEW YORK — Low-income Americans are expected to be able to apply for help from the federal government in paying for Internet access in December.

The Federal Communications Commissioners voted, 3-2 along party lines, Thursday to expand the $1.5 billion Lifeline program, a $9.25-a-month subsidy, to Internet as well as phone service. It can be used with cellphone Internet or home Internet.

It’s the latest federal government attempt to close a “digital divide” between those who have access to the Internet and those who don’t.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency is addressing abuse and fraud problems with improvements like making an independent party check that people are eligible rather than having phone or Internet providers do it.

Providers get payments for signing up customers, and then pass along discounted or free service. There had been problems with some providers signing up ineligible customers. Having someone else verify that people are ineligible could help remove the incentive for them to do that.

The program will have a $2.25 billion budget, but that amount could be raised.

The two Republican commissioners had wanted a lower, $2 billion cap on spending, among other changes, and maneuvered to hold up the expansion, but their efforts failed.

Lifeline was started in 1985 and expanded to include wireless phones in 2005. It’s paid for with fees on Americans’ phone bills.

President Obama supported the change as part of his efforts to expand the availability of broadband.

In a March 9 statement, the White House said the proposal “would give the 12 million households currently using the subsidy for phone service immediate help paying their monthly broadband bill.”


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