Pai Proposes Permanent Change to Lifeline Mobile Data Calculation

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

The current minimum is 3 GB and was scheduled to more than triple in Dec. 1 per a formula approved back in 2016 by the Tom Wheeler FCC. 

The order would revise the methodology, said Pai, to ensure "predictable, reasonable yearly updates" rather than the "drastic year-over-year increases that could impact the ability of Lifeline carriers to continue providing affordable service." 

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The FCC stepped in last year, the first time the 2016 formula kicked in, to reduce the increase from 2 to 3 GB, rather than the 2 to 8 GB the 2016 formula would have mandated. Pai wants to make the revision to the methodology permanent. 

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Lifeline provides monthly discounts of about $10 dollar on broadband and phone service meeting certain minimum standards updated annually. But Pai said the current data capacity formula for updating the standards result in dramatic swings that risk pricing the service out of range of Lifeline-eligible residents. 

Pai said the methodology change would: "(1) ensure greater predictability in the standard from year-to-year for Lifeline subscribers and providers; (2) better account for the needs of smaller-than-average households; and (3) enable the Wireline Competition Bureau to rely on the latest data sources in making its calculations."

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.