After a series of delays due to intense last minute negotiations and culminating in its meeting starting 3.5 hours late, the FCC voted yesterday along party lines to permit low-income recipients to apply their Lifeline discount to broadband service.
As Chairman Wheeler noted in his written statement,
Internet access has become essential for full participation in our modern economy and our society, but 64.5 million Americans are missing out on the opportunities made possible by the most powerful and pervasive platform in history.”
It is unclear, however, just how far $9.25 will go in helping low-income Americans realize these opportunities.
This order will also build on reforms started in 2012 to stymie waste, fraud, and abuse by creating a national third party verifier to manage the customer enrollment process.
As summarized below, the new rules generally appear to mirror those proposed in the Fact Sheet previously covered in this blog. The most noticeable exception is the phasedown of voice service.
DWT recently noted that the FCC’s proposal to eliminate standalone wireless voice service caused widespread outcry among Lifeline stakeholders that the proposal was not technology neutral and would leave many Lifeline recipients without essential voice services. Rather than back down entirely, the FCC instead appears to now treat wireline voice in the same manner, and given voice providers additional time to add broadband to their offerings. The FCC will now eliminate both fixed and mobile voice by 2021 except in those few areas where there is only one Lifeline provider.
Further details and analysis will be provided once the full text of the order is released.