Federal Communications Commission Changes Tribal Lands Eligibility for Lifeline Program Without Tribal Consultation

On November 16, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Report & Order to change its definition of “rurality” for Tribal lands eligible for the enhanced Tribal subsidy of the Lifeline Program. Despite a thorough record of Tribal filings in this proceeding—including previous reform and modernization proceedings beginning initiated in 2011—the FCC has decided to eliminate the enhanced Tribal Lifeline support that was previously designated for all Tribal lands. Instead, the FCC will redirect the enhanced Tribal support to Tribal lands that are rural and not an, “urbanized area or urban cluster area with a population equal to or greater than 25,000 people.” Specifically, the FCC referenced areas like Tulsa, OK, and Reno, NV, as examples of Tribal lands that are located near urban centers with access to high-speed broadband Internet and telephone service and therefore should not be eligible for the enhanced Tribal Lifeline support providing discounted phone and mobile Internet services to low-income residents of Tribal lands. The Report & Order to adopt these changes to the Lifeline program was done without prior and informed notice to Tribal Nations.

 “Yesterday the Commission adopted rules to deprive low-income residents of Tribal lands with access to enhanced Lifeline support for discounted phone service, which negates the purpose of the Lifeline program to provide affordable phone and mobile data services to impoverished and disadvantaged peoples” stated Dr. Traci Morris of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University. “Furthermore, the Commission adopted this ruling without first initiating government-to-government consultation to determine how changes in the definitions of ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ will affect low-income residents of all Tribal lands, thereby ignoring the Commission’s own 2000 Statement of Policy on Establishing a Government-to-Government Relationship with Indian Tribes. Instead of adhering to the Federal government’s fiduciary responsibility to Tribal Nations to provide these critical services as part of the Federal Trust Relationship, the FCC has engaged in actions that will severely affect the ability of impoverished peoples on Tribal lands to access affordable phone and Internet services on mobile devices.”


Federal Communications Commission Changes Tribal Lands Eligibility for Lifeline Program Without Tribal Consultation