FCC Passes Proposal That Would Destroy the Lifeline Program

OTI Calls FCC Move ‘Devastating’ for Low-Income Families
Press Release
Nov. 16, 2017

Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a proposal that, if passed, would completely devastate the only federal program that provides direct support to low-income Americans to get access to broadband and telephone service. The proposal would cut off Lifeline service for many current subscribers, including in rural and Tribal areas, by eliminating non-facilities based providers from the program, imposing rigid expenditure caps, and enacting a slew of other harmful policies, such as limiting the amount of time a Lifeline recipient could use the program. The proposal would affect those Lifeline users who need the program most, such as people with disabilities and older Americans.

There are many dangerous aspects to the FCC’s item, as mentioned above, but a particularly egregious proposal is the Commission’s intent to bar non-facilities based providers from offering Lifeline service—without non-facilities based providers, the program would shrink dramatically because 68 percent of all the program’s recipients receive Lifeline service from non-facilities based providers. There are parts of the U.S where these providers are the only companies offering Lifeline service.

The following quote can be attributed to Sarah J. Morris, Director of Open Internet Policy at the Open Technology Institute at New America:

“The FCC’s actions today are a shameful assault on the Lifeline program. More than just a subsidy, Lifeline is a critical program that offers families a pathway out of poverty. Today’s proposal will make it more difficult for low-income families to access the communications tools required to obtain healthcare, financial, employment, government, education, and information services.

Importantly, Lifeline is also underutilized. Only about one-third of eligible households participate in the program, and the FCC should build on previous reforms to make the program more robust, and to improve adoption by the families that need access to phone and internet service most. The FCC has previously undertaken efforts to address potential fraud, and it should not attack the program and the already vulnerable communities that rely on it. “