FCC Grants Partial Waiver of Lifeline Service Standards Increase

On Thursday, July 25th, 2019, the Wireline Competition Bureau (“Bureau”) released a Public Notice announcing the updated minimum service standards for speed and usage allowances for Lifeline-supported services, as required by the 2016 Lifeline Order, and announcing the 2020 calendar year budget for universal service support, which will be $2,385,292,106 (WC Docket No. 11-42).

  • For mobile broadband service, beginning December 1, 2019, the minimum service standard for data usage will increase to 8.75 GB per month, and the minimum speed standard will remain at 3G mobile technology. The minimum monthly service standard for mobile voice service will remain unchanged at 1,000 minutes per month.
  • For fixed broadband service speed, beginning December 1, 2019, the minimum service standard will be 20 Mbps/3 Mbps with a minimum data usage standard of 1024 GB per month. The Bureau recognizes that Lifeline providers may also receive Lifeline support for the highest performing generally available residential fixed broadband service offering at least 4 Mbps/1 Mbps, in the event that such provider does not offer any generally available residential fixed broadband packages that meet the minimum service standard at a subscriber’s residence.

However, trade press noted that the Pubic Notice was published despite a currently pending CTIA petition asking to pause the Lifeline standard and a day after NARUC members approved a resolution asking the Commission to refrain from making such changes. The Commission responded that the 2016 Order mandates that any changes to these standards must be released by July 31 for December 1 implementation – and the Bureau was therefore required to publish this Notice, regardless of the pending requests.

On Wednesday, November 19th, the Commission released an Order granting in part and denying in part the Petition of CTIA and others (“Petitioners”) seeking a waiver of the Commission’s Lifeline program’s minimum service standards, as required by the 2016 Lifeline Order (WC Docket 11-42). These updated standards, announced in a July 25, 2019 Public Notice, otherwise would have taken effect on December 1, 2019.

The Commission grants the Petition in part, agreeing with Petitioners that the minimum service standard increase was not a predictable incremental increase and did not allow carriers to plan accordingly. The Commission therefore waives the revised increase in minimum standards in part and to the extent that it would require mobile carriers in the Lifeline program to offer more than 3 GB per month from December 1, 2010 through November 30, 2020, finding that an updated 3 GB minimum standard reflects an increase more consistent with past incremental increases. However, the Commission denies Petitioners’ request for waiver of the scheduled phase-down of Lifeline support for voice service, concluding that Petitioners failed to establish this would be inconsistent with the public interest.

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