Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lifeline/Link-UP Modernization

In the March 23, 2011 Federal Register, the FCC presented a set of proposals and recommendations to modernize and reform Lifeline/Link-Up which is part of the FCC’s Universal Service program. The FCC has not systematically re-examined Lifeline/Link-Up since the passage of the 1996 Act but at this time, new technologies and regulatory changes have put a strain on the program. The FCC at the crossroads is examining the strategies needed to increase broadband adoption, but at the same time, not increase the overall program size.

The recommendations published in the Federal Register included ideas and suggestions made by the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, GAO, and from proposals and ideas contained in the National Broadband Plan. The proposed reforms address waste, fraud, abuse, controlling the size of the program, strengthening program administration and accountability, improving enrollment and outreach efforts. The FCC is also thinking of developing pilot programs to assess whether the new ideas and recommendations suggested will work with the program.

An important issue that needs to be addressed, concerns individual states and/or Tribal governments and dealing with their unique technological issues that might make it impractical or burdensome to implement coordinated enrollment. For example, the ability of a state or Tribal government to implement enrollment may depend upon the capabilities of existing but possibly out dated data processing equipment, software, and data communication networks.

One of the other technological issues in the document concerns the development of a national database. A number of questions need to be answered so further development of the database could take place. A sample of the questions on the development of the database concern:

• Who should administer the database? Should it be the USAF or a third-party?

• How should the national database be funded and maintained? Should the database be funded completely or partially from the Universal Service Fund?

• How should privacy issues be addressed? • What functions should be served by a centralized database?

• How to address customer eligibility and how to receive updates in changes in consumer eligibility from appropriate social service agencies?

• How should the database be populated and by whom? • What should the specific system requirements be?

• What costs would the states incur if any if a national database were established?

• Should a state/Regional database be established as opposed to or in addition to a national database?

For more details and information, go to the March 23, 2011 Federal Register. Comments are welcome on the proposed recommendations and are due on or before April 21, 2011.