At its open meeting on March 31, 2016 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) voted along party lines (3-2) to adopt a Lifeline Modernization Order implementing significant changes to the Lifeline Universal Service Program, the most significant of which is an expansion of the program to cover broadband service. Last week, the Commission released the text of the Order, and on Friday we released a client advisory that provides a summary of the Order’s key changes and effective dates.
In addition to expanding Lifeline support to Broadband Internet Access Services, the Order:
- sets phased-in minimum service standards for fixed and mobile voice and broadband services to support “robust” service offerings and phases in requirements for Wi-Fi and hotspot-enabled devices provided to Lifeline subscribers
- establishes a National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier (National Verifier) to make eligibility determinations and perform a variety of other functions, including providing support payments to providers and conducting annual recertification
- creates a streamlined federal Lifeline Broadband Provider (LBP) designation process as an alternative to the current ETC designation processes by interpreting and forbearing from parts of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (Act)
- streamlines the programs that qualify consumers for Lifeline, by adding the Veterans Pension benefit and Survivors Pension benefit to the list of programs through which a consumer can demonstrate and removing the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); National School Lunch Program’s free lunch program (NSLP); and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) from the list of Lifeline-qualifying assistance programs
- establishes a $2.25 billion annual budget for the program with a trigger for the Bureau to submit a report to the Commission when the program reaches 90 percent of the budget
- modifies the non-usage rules, establishes a 12-month benefit port freeze for supported broadband offerings, and allows the Wireline Competition Bureau to modify program forms
The Lifeline Modernization Order will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, but many of the new and revised rules will require Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and specific deadlines are established for many provisions. Petitions for reconsideration will be due 30 days after publication of the Order in the Federal Register.
If you are interested in learning more about the Order, or have questions about providing Lifeline services, please contact the authors of this post or your regular Kelley Drye attorney at any time.