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Groups Seek More Expansive Lifeline Response from FCC

Some 250 groups, from the American Civil Liberties Union and Access Now to the United Church of Christ and the Women's Law Project, have gotten together to tell the FCC it needs to take further actions to help low-income residents stay connected during the coronavirus crisis. 

In a letter to FCC chair Ajit Pai and the other commissioners, they said that in this unprecedented emergency the FCC decision to waive certain requirements for existing Lifeline customers in the early days of the crisis were laudable first steps.  

The Lifeline program is the FCC broadband/phone subsidy for low-income residents. 

In an order released Tuesday (March 17) the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau waived the program's re-certification and re-verification requirements for 60 days, which has become something of a standard for the suspension of regular processes.  

It also suspended for those 60 days the requirement that participating carriers' representatives register with the Universal Service Fund, which implements the Lifeline subsidy.  

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But the groups signaled it was now time for larger strides. Specifically, they want the FCC to: 

• "Immediately prohibit disconnections of Lifeline consumers [they suggest the prohibition last 120 days, while the typical period ISPs are setting for various waivers and price breaks is currently 60 days]; 

• "Within no more than one week, require Lifeline providers to offer unlimited voice minutes and unlimited texting and commensurate voice-only financial support [they also want the FCC to boost the subsidy to cover the extra minutes]; and

• "Within no more than 21 days, create an emergency Lifeline broadband benefit [they suggest $50 per month when the 60-day ISP offer of free service ends]."

They also want there to be no waiting periods for service or prohibitions on service to consumers who have not paid past bills. They also say the FCC should waive the obligation that providers be eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs). 

"Millions of people in this country must stay home in order to limit the 

spread of the coronavirus and it is in our country’s national interest to continue as much of our economic and civic life as possible during this time," they wrote. "In the near-term telephone and Internet access will be necessary for health care, employment, the national census, primary elections, education and more. We strongly urge the Commission to act immediately.

John Eggerton
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.