On Tuesday, January 31, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced adopted rules to reform the Lifeline program. The following statement can be attributed to Benton Foundation* Policy Counsel Amina Fazlullah:
“At a time of nationwide economic stress, when a number of families are facing unemployment and homelessness, Lifeline ensures that these families are able to maintain a connection to potential employers, educational resources, government services and healthcare providers.
The Benton Foundation is extremely pleased that the FCC, under Chairman Genachowski’s leadership, has followed through with significant consumer-focused improvements to the Lifeline and Link Up programs. With today’s order the FCC takes important steps to streamline the program, create savings, and modernize it for our increasingly broadband-dependent world.
Benton highlights these key decisions made today:
- Clarifying the eligibility definition of household to fall in line with standards used by other government programs. Utilizing the economic unit definition of household will aid in effective deployment, take up, and certification. This definition removes doubt that Americans who have lost their homes and are living in shelters or with friends and family can, in fact, benefit from Lifeline support.
- Providing support for consumer education and awareness campaigns. The order requires Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) to provide robust materials and support to educate Lifeline eligible consumers of the program offerings and requirements. We look forward to reading the order language to learn more about the punitive measures to be weighed against ETCs that fail to comply with the requirement.
- Implementing broadband adoption pilot projects. As Commissioner Clyburn correctly noted today, these pilot projects should have begun two years ago. Nevertheless we are looking forward to the application process for pilots and are especially pleased that the Commission will be compiling data from a broad swath of sources before beginning their final analysis.
- Allowing consumers the option of bundled services. Opening up the use of the monthly subsidy to bundled service offerings provides Lifeline participants with an option to access broadband service. While it’s important to note that most low-income families will have a tough time footing the difference in the monthly bill, we recognize this is a solid first step that adjusts the program to include more than just voice services.
- Waiting to create a constrained budget or cap on the program until after the transition to include broadband is finished. Lifeline, a small part of the billion dollar Universal Service Fund (USF), is the only program that provides direct support to consumers. To constrain Lifeline could critically wound the nascent transition to include broadband.
We thank the FCC for its hard work and for listening closely to the voices of consumers when crafting this order.
* The Benton Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting communication in the public interest. This statement reflects the institutional view of the Foundation and, unless obvious from the text, is not intended to reflect the views of individual Foundation officers, directors, or advisors.