On May 28, Chairman Wheeler announced he is seeking comments on a proposal to modernize the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program in order to better help low-income Americans afford access to essential communication services, including broadband. The proposals are intended to restructure the program and make Lifeline more efficient by limiting wasted resources and effectively targeting those most in need.
The Lifeline program was enacted in 1985 and has been updated several times to function with major tech advances over the decades since. Being last updated in 2012, Wheeler is proposing that the program meet the latest in 21st century communication technology needs. This restructure proposal comes from a recent study that found only 48 percent of individuals making less than $25,000 have service at home and that nearly 50 percent of low-income Americans have had to cancel or suspend smartphone service because of financial difficulty.
In what is called the “Rebooting the Lifeline Program,” the three areas of proposed change are ensuring minimum standards for voice and broadband, resetting the Lifeline Eligibility Administration, and increasing competition. Other major issues being considered are provider responsibility for screening eligible customers and encouraging participation by the states in promoting provider competition.
The proposal also focuses attention on the FCC and restructuring its role in Lifeline. It would require that the FCC must routinely study the prevailing market price for service and the prevailing speed adopted by broadband service consumers. The proposal would also encourage the FCC to support digital literacy by providing a preference to participating broadband service providers that involve digital learning as service to adopters. Another update to the program would be a requirement that the FCC submit annual performance reports of the Lifeline program and that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) submit an analysis one after the enactment of the bill.
To read the FCC announcement click here.
To submit comments about the Lifeline program, click here to access the FCC page. The Proceeding Number of the proposal is 11-42.