Yesterday, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau released a Public Notice informing carriers with pending Lifeline compliance plans or applications for designation as an ETC that they must submit an “affirmative written statement that the carrier remains interested in having the Bureau review [the] application.” The statement must be filed with the Bureau no later than June 7, 2016 in WC Docket 09-197. If a carrier fails to submit an affirmative statement, the application or compliance plan will be denied although the ETC could re-apply at a later date.
The Bureau has 55 compliance plans pending review. Most were submitted shortly after the release of the FCC’s February 2012 Lifeline Reform Order. Twenty compliance plans were approved in 2012, but none have been acted upon since December 2012 (except for one that was denied). The Bureau also has 55 ETC applications pending before it for approval in states that do not regulate Lifeline wireless services. This means that there has been a de facto moratorium on new Lifeline providers in effect for more than three years. The Public Notice signals that the Bureau may be ready to allow the entry of new market participants.
The Public Notice states that there have been a number of changes to the Lifeline program rules since 2012 and many compliance plans or ETC applications have not been updated to reflect these changes. The Public Notice, however, also states that the “affirmative statement need only attest to the carrier’s continued desire to have the application reviewed, and does not need to produce additional information.” This suggests that the Bureau may give applicants additional time to update pending applications to reflect the various rule changes.