On May 28, 2015, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a summary of his proposals for reforming the Lifeline program. After noting the stark disparity in broadband access between wealthy American households and those with low incomes, Chairman Wheeler lauded the success of the FCC’s 2012 Lifeline reform measures, which have reduced Lifeline spending by 24 percent.
Chairman Wheeler’s statement calls for a “rebooted” Lifeline program that would support broadband services for the first time. The first step in this process will be an order and notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that is expected to be adopted by the Commission on June 18th. Chairman Wheeler’s statement indicates that the order will adopt three primary reform measures by:
- Requiring providers to retain customer eligibility documentation (which they are currently prohibited from keeping);
- Extending the required document retention period from three to ten year; and
- Requiring that certain program “performance data” be made easily available to the public.
According to the statement, the NPRM will also include at least three proposals for further consideration and public comment:
- Setting minimum service standards for Lifeline-supported voice and broadband services;
- Moving the process of determining customer eligibility away from ETCs and instead establishing a third-part mechanism to manage this process; and
- Allowing more companies to participate in the Lifeline program by relaxing requirements that have effectively prohibited any new entrants into the national market since December 2012.