This past Tuesday, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau issued an Order delaying for 120 days the effective date of the agency’s new interpretation of “former reservations in Oklahoma” for purposes of delineating the area in that state eligible for “Enhanced Tribal Lifeline support.” The additional Tribal support augments the standard monthly Lifeline subsidy of $9.25 by $25, for a total of $34.25). The Order extends the effective date from February 9, as originally adopted in the Commission’s June 2015 Lifeline Reform Order, to June 8, 2016. The Order also announced that “in order to provide impacted parties additional certainty” regarding the new boundaries of the “former reservations” area, it was releasing a “digital shapefile.” The Order comes in the wake of pleas by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) and several Tribal entities and industry parties to postpone the effective date, as well as a judicial appeal by multiple Lifeline providers.

Since 2004, the FCC and OCC had relied on a “former reservations” map on the OCC’s website to determine which areas in the state were eligible for the additional Tribal support. But in the June 2015 Order, the FCC re-interpreted the Oklahoma “former reservations” boundaries, adopting a different map known as the “Historical Map of Oklahoma 1870-1890,” which had the effect of significantly reducing the areas (and number of consumers) eligible for Tribal Lifeline support. The OCC and several Lifeline providers asserted that the FCC had not provided adequate electronic mapping resources to enable providers and consumers to understand with precision whether particular Lifeline subscribers would continue to be eligible for enhanced support. Several Lifeline providers also contended in their judicial appeal to the D.C. Circuit that the FCC had erred in displacing the former map with the substituted “Historical Map.” In addition, the Cherokee Nation argued that an area known as the Cherokee Outlet should not be removed from the status of a “former reservation.” The Order acknowledges that the Cherokee Outlet issue remains unresolved pending further consultations.

The new Order drew a stinging dissenting statement from Commissioner Pai, who called the retention of Tribal Lifeline support in most of Oklahoma even for an additional 120 days a “scandal.”