Groups Push Pai to Reverse Lifeline Move

Over 40 groups have written FCC chairman Ajit Pai to ask him to reverse the decision to rescind Lifeline broadband subsidy eligibility for nine companies.

Among the Wheeler-era decisions the Pai FCC reversed were those designations, saying that the program needed to be better vetted for waste, fraud and abuse before it was expanded.

The authorizations were not canceled but returned to pending status, though with the suggestion they might not pass muster. Only one of the nine had actually started providing service.

The Lifeline program provides basic communications services to low income Americans.

In a letter to Pai and the other commissioners dated Feb. 23, the groups—which includes the NAACP, Free Press, the American Library Association, and The Benton Foundation—called on the FCC to "reject any further efforts to undermine Lifeline," implement the FCC's March 2016 Lifeline reforms, and restore that carrier designations. 

The FCC voted on the reforms in March 2016 after a compromise between the two Republicans and Democrat Mignon Clyburn fell apart that would have capped the fund, leading to Pai charging that chairman Tom Wheeler worked through outside groups to blow up the compromise, which Wheeler branded "balderdash."

Pai has said he is all for modernizing the program but has said that "failing to clean up the waste, fraud, and abuse in the program puts the entire enterprise in jeopardy." 

The March proposal did target waste, fraud and abuse, including getting eligible telecoms out of the business of verifying participants. But Pai clearly wanted more, including the cap and other limitations.

The groups challenged what they said was the "long-discredited" charge of widespread waste, fraud and abuse in the subsidy program.

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.