Targeting certain provisions of the FCC’s April 2016 order which reformed the Universal Service Fund (USF) Lifeline Program to combat waste, fraud and abuse while expanding that program to fixed and wireless broadband, Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Tom Udall (D-NM) joined Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) last Thursday in unveiling legislation in the House and Senate that would give the states primary authority to decide carrier eligibility to participate in Lifeline. Lifeline provides eligible low income households with a monthly subsidy of $9.25 to offset the cost of landline and mobile voice and broadband services. 

The bills’ introduction was spurred by the FCC’s decision earlier this month to revoke the Lifeline eligibility of nine broadband service entities as part of a larger group of actions which rolled back “midnight” rulings undertaken late in the tenure of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Known as the Preserving State Commission Oversight Act (PSCOA), the companion bills would (1) reinforce the authority of the states to decide which carriers can participate in Lifeline, (2) ensure that carriers offering Lifeline service within any given state “are not engaging in waste, fraud or abuse,” and (3) direct the FCC to eliminate rules, adopted in the April 2016 order, that conflict with Communications Act provisions specifying “that primary authority to designate companies to participate in the Lifeline program lies with the states.”

Observing that, in her home state of Nebraska, “our public service commission has a fair, open and transparent process to meet the needs of families that are reliant on Lifeline,” Fisher asserted that, by enacting PSCOA, “Congress can empower these states to lead on these decisions and ensure those families receive the phone and broadband service they need.” As Udall stressed that “state utility commissions are key to policing against fraud and harmonizing federal and state initiatives,” Cramer argued that “the FCC doesn’t have the authority, the manpower or the local knowledge to police the entire program at a national level.”