FCC Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn Propose Lifeline Reform

Earlier this week, a Fact Sheet was released outlining a Lifeline modernization Order being proposed by Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn to modernize the Lifeline program and provide affordable broadband for all Americans.  The draft Order proposes that low income consumers could apply their monthly $9.25 support to stand-alone broadband services as well as bundled voice and data service packages.  The proposed Order also:

  • Provides support for broadband by requiring providers to include broadband in their supported service, promoting Lifeline-supported mobile devices with Wi-Fi functionality, and requiring a mid-2019 program review and report by the FCC WCB;
  • Ensures that Lifeline subscribers are receiving up-to-date services by setting minimum standards for broadband speed and usage allowance of 150 GB, phasing in minimum standards for mobile broadband service, starting at 500 MB per month of 3G data, requiring unlimited minutes for mobile voice service, and converging mobile voice and data gradually between now and 2019;
  • Frees up the Lifeline marketplace by allowing nationwide entry of a new category of providers, establishing a third-party National Eligibility Verifier, and modernizing the rules and framework;
  • Closes remaining vulnerabilities to curb waste, fraud and abuse; and
  • Establishes a budget of $2.25 billion, and adopts rules requiring the FCC WCB to notify and provide analysis to the Commission when spending reaches 90 percent.

The proposed Order is expected to be voted on by the full Commission at the March 31 Open Meeting.  In conjunction with the Proposed Order, Chairman Wheeler also published a blog post on the topic of low-income consumer broadband needs.  In the post, the Chairman announced that the proposal aims to “help close the broadband affordability gap by modernizing the FCC’s Lifeline program.”

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