On March 31, 2015, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (“Bureau”) released an Order clarifying subscriber usage rules of Lifeline-supported service established in the 2012 Lifeline Reform Order in an attempt to curb Lifeline support for inactive subscribers. The Bureau clarified that ETCs must both assess and collect a monthly fee from subscribers in the program or follow the procedures established in the Lifeline Reform Order to de-enroll inactive subscribers who fail to use the service within any consecutive 60-day period.
While the Lifeline Reform Order established that ETCs who fail to both assess and collect monthly fees from subscribers would not be eligible to continue receiving Lifeline support for inactive subscribers, the actual text of the FCC rules stated that ETCs must “assess or collect” the monthly fee in order to avoid triggering the consumer usage requirement. The Bureau clarified that merely assessing a fee, but failing to collect it, is not sufficient to meet the goals of eliminating waste and inefficiency in the Lifeline program. On the other hand, actually collecting the fee will be sufficient to assess whether the subscriber is still active. As such, the pre-paid ETCs must both assess and collect a monthly charge or proceed with the de-enrollment procedures for inactive subscribers who fail to use a service within any consecutive 60 day period.