Expand Lifeline and Link-Up to include broadband


Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: 
WC Docket No. 03-109



Recommendation #86

FCC Chapter: 9.1

Status: Completed

To make broadband more affordable and overcome some of the barriers that have kept the penetration rate for low-income households low, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should expand Lifeline Assistance (Lifeline) and Link-Up America (Link-Up) to make broadband more affordable for low-income households.

  • The FCC and states should require eligible telecommunications carriers (ETC s) to permit Lifeline customers to apply Lifeline discounts to any service or package that includes basic voice service.
  • The FCC should integrate the expanded Lifeline and Link-Up programs with other state and local e-government efforts.
  • The FCC should facilitate pilot programs that will produce actionable information to implement the most efficient and effective long-term broadband support mechanism.

As low-income support is extended to cover broadband, the FCC should ensure that consumers are free to apply Lifeline discounts to any service offering or package containing a broadband service that meets the standards established by the FCC.

The FCC should also integrate the expanded Lifeline and Link-Up programs with other state and local e-government efforts.

State social service agencies should take a more active role in consumer outreach and in qualifying eligible end-users.

Agencies should make Lifeline and Link-Up applications routinely available and should discuss Lifeline and Link-Up
when they discuss other assistance programs.

The FCC should continue to develop and provide educational and outreach materials for use in these efforts.

The FCC should encourage state agencies responsible for Lifeline and Link-Up programs to coordinate with other low-income support programs to streamline enrollment for benefits. Unified online applications for social services, including the low-income programs, and automatic enrollment for Lifeline and Link-Up based on other means-tested programs are potential examples of such efforts.

The FCC should also work with the states and providers to clarify obligations and identify best practices for outreach, certification and verification of eligibility. As part of these efforts, and in conjunction with Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) reform efforts, the FCC should also consider whether a centralized database for online certification and verification is a cost-effective way to minimize waste, fraud and abuse.

To make broadband more affordable, the low-income support program should expand provider eligibility to include any broadband provider selected by the consumer—be it wired or wireless, fixed or mobile, terrestrial or satellite—that meets minimum criteria to be established by the FCC.

As the FCC designs a Lifeline broadband program, it should consider its recent experience with expanding Lifeline to non-facilities-based prepaid wireless providers. That change substantially increased participation in Lifeline and likely made telephone service more available to people who are less likely to subscribe to wireline voice services.

To ensure Universal Service Fund (USF) money is used efficiently, the FCC should begin the expansion of Lifeline to broadband by facilitating pilot programs that will experiment with different program design elements.

The pilots should determine which parameters most effectively increase adoption among low-income consumers by examining the effects of:

  • Different levels of subsidy and/or minimum-payment requirements for consumers.
  • A subsidy for installation (equivalent to Link-Up).
  • A subsidy for customer premises equipment (CPE) such as aircards, modems and computers.
  • Alternative strategies for integrating Lifeline into other programs to encourage broadband adoption and digital literacy. (For instance, when signing up for Lifeline, new subscribers could be provided with packets of information that include sources of refurbished computers and digital literacy courses. Additionally, they could receive information about Lifeline from organizations offering digital literacy courses or refurbished computers.

The FCC should also consider the unique needs of residents on Tribal lands.

The FCC should explore ways to conduct the pilots through competitive processes that would encourage providers to test alternative pricing and marketing strategies aimed at maximizing adoption in low-income communities.

Upon completion of the pilot programs, the FCC should report to Congress on such issues as whether CPE subsidies are a cost-effective way to increase adoption.

After evaluating the results by looking at outputs such as total cost per subscriber, subscriber increases and subscriber churn rate, the FCC should begin full-scale implementation of a low-income program for broadband.