Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Modernizing Lifeline Program

FCC Chairman Genachowski is proposing changes to eliminate waste, fraud, abuse, and sees the need to modernize the Universal Services Fund’s “Lifeline” program so that all Americans can have access to basic communications services. As the Chairman has stated “Lifeline” a vitally important program for over the past 20 years has helped tens of millions of low income Americans afford basic telephone service.

According to the FCC, the Lifeline program is faced with a number of problems. Some carriers are providing Lifeline services to individuals that already have Lifeline service from another carrier. Currently, there is no database of recipients that carriers can check against before signing up a new customer.

The FCC has received reports that some unscrupulous carriers are abusing the program by supporting consumers who did not sign up for Lifeline by mailing them phones already set up for the service, or signing people up for Lifeline who aren’t eligible for the program. Finally the program is outdated and only focuses on phone service and not the internet.

The proposed reforms are projected to save the program up to $2 billion over the next few years:

• Eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse by creating a National Lifeline Accountability Database to prevent multiple carriers from receiving support for the same subscriber
• Set a budget for Lifeline while acknowledging that the size of the program should fluctuate as the economy improves or worsens
• Establish national eligibility criteria to ensure low income consumers access to Lifeline service who meet the federal standards for participation in the program
• Conduct independent audits every two years on every carrier that receives more than a specified annual amount of support

Lifeline needs to be modernized from just a telephone service to being able to support broadband. To accomplish these goals, the FCC is going to establish a Broadband Adoption Pilot Program to determine how Lifeline can be used to increase broadband adoption among Lifeline-eligible consumers. Starting this year, the program will solicit applications from broadband providers and select a number of projects to fund.

The Commission will discuss Lifeline issues at a meeting scheduled to be held in Washington D.C. on January 31, 2012 and will consider the many changes and reforms needed to modernize the program to meet the needs of the consumers.