FCC Extends COVID-19-Related Lifeline Waivers

Exterior of the FCC building in Washington, D.C.
(Image credit: FCC)

The FCC has extended its existing COVID-19-related waivers related to the Lifeline phone/broadband communications subsidy through Feb. 28, 2021.

The waivers deal with the program's "recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, usage and income documentation requirements." 

Related: Dems Push FCC for Unlimited Lifeline Data

Without the extensions, those waivers would have expired Nov. 30.

In addition, the FCC has granted a partial waiver of the scheduled increase in what speed of mobile broadband plan qualifies for subsidies. Without that waiver, beginning Dec. 1, those plans would have to offer 11.75 GB per month of data compared to the current 3 GB.

It is partial because the National Lifeline Association (NLA) petition for waiver had sought a freeze of the 3 GB threshold. Instead, the FCC said it would allow it to increase to 4.5 GB. 

NLA had also sought to stop the FCC's planned decrease of Lifeline voice support from $7.25 to $5.25. The FCC declined to do so as it continues to migrate the program from voice to broadband.

The FCC said that allowing the increase to 11.75 GB "would risk undue disruption for Lifeline subscribers and providers," but that keeping it at 3 GB "would risk leaving Lifeline consumers behind at a time when broadband access is more important than ever."

The 4.5 GB figure has always been more to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's liking--the bump-up to 11.75 was mandated by a previous FCC.

Saying he was cleaning up a mess made by the previous commission, Pai last July circulated a draft order that would permanently cut that new minimum mobile broadband data capacity provided to low income residents by the Lifeline subsidy from 11.75 GB to 4.5 GB.  

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.