FCC Moves to Transform Lifeline Program for Low-Income Americans

The Federal Communications Commission took steps to transform its Lifeline program. A Fourth Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Memorandum Opinion and Order changes FCC rules to:

  • Incentivize deployment on Tribal lands by limiting “enhanced” Tribal Lifeline support – $25 monthly in addition to the standard $9.25 per household – to facilities-based providers
  • Reduce program waste by limiting enhanced Tribal support to rural areas and eliminating enhanced support in urban areas, where the additional $25 a month is not required to make service affordable or to promote deployment
  • Increase consumer choice by eliminating restrictions that barred Lifeline consumers from changing Lifeline providers for a year
  • Protect consumers and the program by clarifying that Lifeline support is only available for mobile broadband at 3G or better levels, barring support for so-called “premium WiFi” services that require use at a Wi-Fi hotspot

A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on:

  • Spurring investment in deployment and reducing waste, fraud, and abuse by limiting Lifeline support to facilities-based providers
  • Protecting the program by restoring the traditional role of the states in approving participation of Lifeline-eligible providers
  • Protecting ratepayers, who pay for Lifeline through an assessment on their phone bills, by setting a self-enforcing budget cap on the program
  • Improving provider incentives to offer high quality services by establishing a maximum discount level for Lifeline-supported services

Finally, a Notice of Inquiry seeks comment on how to efficiently target more funds to areas and households most in need of help in obtaining digital opportunity. These areas would include rural and Tribal areas, as well as low-income urban areas that are likely to be underserved by providers.

The FCC's Latest Moves Could Worsen the Digital Divide (Wired)

FCC Moves to Transform Lifeline Program for Low-Income Americans