FCC Sets Initial Launch of Lifeline Verifier

The FCC has identified the six states that will be in the initial launch of its new process for making sure telecom subsidies are going to the right people.

The identifier is part of a controversial Lifeline reform item, adopted under former chairman Tom Wheeler, that included trying to combat waste, fraud and abuse by verifying a low-income subscribers' eligibility to receive the Lifeline subsidy for their communications services—phone and increasingly broadband.

While then Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai opposed the item for failing to cap the fund, he supported efforts to curb potential gaming of the system.

As part of its 2016 Lifeline Order, the FCC set the goal for the Universal Service Administrative Company (which administers various subsidies) of deploying the Verifier in at least five states by Dec. 31, 2017, so the FCC is topping that by one state.

Related: Senate Leaders Want Lifeline Abuse Investigations

That verifier will "conduct checks to prevent duplicate benefits, recertify subscriber eligibility, and calculate support payments to eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs)."

The six initial states are Colorado, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The system will soft launch in December—ETCs can continue to use the existing verification process—and a hard launch March 13, 2018, after which the six states must only use the new verifier.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has long argued the Lifeline program needs better oversight and early in his tenure rescinded the eligibility of nine telecommunications carriers to provide the subsidized service, deciding that going forward states, not the federal government, should oversee eligibility.

Just this week the Senate Commerce Committee scheduled a Sept. 6 hearing on waste, fraud and abuse in the Lifeline program.

The hearing comes in the wake of a June GAO report that found "recurring failures of evaluation and oversight," according to the committee, which meant an ongoing risk of waste, fraud and abuse.

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.