FCC Connects Low-Income Consumers to the Internet

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Robbie’s Round-Up for the Week of April 4-8, 2016

Although the Federal Communications Commission has not yet released a report and order on its decision to modernize the Lifeline program, we wanted to share a quick summary of the decision. Below, please find a great summary from Anthony L. Butler, a Consumer Education & Outreach Specialist in the Consumer Affairs & Outreach Division of the FCC's Consumer Governmental Affairs Bureau. The Benton Foundation will share a more detailed summary of the historic decision after the report and order is released.

Today’s consumers need Internet access for full and meaningful participation in society. Yet 43 percent of nation’s poorest households say they can’t afford modern broadband service. To help close this digital divide, the Commission adopted an order on March 31, 2016, to refocus Lifeline support on broadband. This will help low-income Americans share in the 21st Century opportunities that access to the Internet provides.

Robust broadband support under the modernized program:

  • Allows Lifeline support for stand-alone mobile or fixed broadband Internet access service, as well as bundles including fixed or mobile voice and broadband
  • Phases in mobile broadband requirement over five years
  • Helps close the homework gap by promoting the offering of mobile devices with Wi-Fi and hotspot functionality

To ensure quality service for Lifeline subscribers, the new rules include minimum standards:

  • Fixed speed standard based on what a substantial majority of consumers receive (currently 10 Mbps downloads/1 Mbps uploads)
  • Sets minimum monthly fixed broadband usage allowance standard, starting at 150 GB and updated thereafter
  • Phases in minimum standards for mobile broadband service, starting at 500 MB per month of 3G data by Dec. 1, 2016, 1 GB by Dec. 1, 2017, and increasing to 2 GB per month by the end of 2018
  • Phases in mobile voice monthly standards: 500 min/mo., beginning on Dec. 1, 2016; 750 min/mo. on Dec. 1, 2017; and 1,000 min/mo., starting on Dec. 1, 2018.
  • Anticipates technological advances in the convergence of mobile voice and data, phasing in broadband requirement as support for stand-alone voice decreases to $7.25 on Dec. 1, 2019; $5.25 by Dec. 1, 2020; and no support by Dec. 1, 2021, except in areas where there is only one Lifeline provider
  • Voice remains eligible for full support as part of a voice and data bundle

The new order builds on recent reforms to help consumers while minimizing impacts to ratepayers and preventing waste, fraud and abuse:

  • Creates a National Eligibility Verifier to reduce administrative burden on service providers and prevent enrollment of ineligible subscribers
  • Refines the list of federal programs that may be used to validate Lifeline eligibility to those that support electronic validation, are most accountable, and best identify people needing support (SNAP, SSI, Medicaid, Veterans Pension, HUD Federal Public Housing Assistance, Tribal), along with income-based eligibility
  • Maintains the current $9.25 monthly household subsidy

Please go to https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-modernizes-lifeline-program-digital-age for the press release about Lifeline modernization.

To learn more about the Lifeline program for low-income Americans, visit https://www.fcc.gov/general/lifeline-program-low-income-consumers.

Further Lifeline Reading

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist TL;DR)

Events Calendar for the Week of April 11-15, 2016

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By Robbie McBeath.