Sources: FCC Strikes Lifeline Compromise

The FCC appears poised to come together on Lifeline reform in a compromise proposal that took even FCC staffers by surprise.

The key, said a source familiar with the compromise, is on a new budget—essentially a cap absent further commission action on spending.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler had proposed a soft cap of $2.25 billion on the low-income Lifeline advanced telecommunications subsidy, which the FCC is migrating to broadband. That would have been an extra $750 million in spending and even that could be exceeded if necessary.

The compromise is $2 billion and no going over it unless the FCC commissioners vote to raise it.

The need for an actual budget for the fund was a key sticking point with the Republican members of the commission, and sources say that will earn both their votes for a 5-0 Lifeline reform. The commissioners were in agreement that the subsidy needed to be expanded to stand-alone broadband, that it was a good idea to get eligible telecommunications carriers out of the business of self-certifying.

The FCC early Thursday (March 31) pushed back the meeting start time from 10:30 a.m. to noon and then to 1:30, signaling something was afoot. But rather than the contentious meeting delays that characterized the Kevin Martin FCC chairmanship, this one appeared to be so statements could be adjusted to reflect the comity.

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.