FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said today he believes Congress should take action to make broadband service affordable for tens of millions of Americans with low incomes and those who have been left unemployed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking during an event organized by USTelecom, Starks called on Congress to “focus” on providing an “affordable option” for broadband service that would cost between $10 and $12 per month. That service pricing level, he said, could be directed at the 20 million Americans that are unemployed currently.

Legislative and policy options to fund such a service, the commissioner said, could include existing FCC programs that subsidize communications services, like the Lifeline program. “In the midst of a pandemic … it is difficult to stand up a brand-new program,” Starks said, adding, “I do think it makes some good sense to rely on the programs we have.”

Starks, who is one of two Democratic commissioners on the five-member FCC, also said Congress should lend assistance to communications service providers who have signed onto the agency’s Keep Americans Connected pledge, under which they agreed to not cut off internet service to customers who could not pay because of disruptions caused by the pandemic. More than 800 providers agreed to the pledge, but it officially expired at the end of June.

Starks said today he was “extremely grateful” to the companies that committed to the pledge, but also emphasized that service providers “cannot afford to take on these issues by themselves, so Congress is going to have a play a role there.” He estimated there are “millions” of Americans with past-due internet service bills.

“Broadband has to be part” of the next pandemic relief bill that Congress takes up, Starks urged.

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