For the first time in nearly four years, yesterday the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau announced the approval of two Lifeline compliance plans in a Public Notice. The FCC action comes after the April 27 release of its Lifeline Modernization Order, which drastically altered the Lifeline program and put it on a course to support broadband. While news of the approvals is surprising, it was not entirely unexpected given the FCC’s issuance of a Public Notice in May asking carriers with pending compliance plans to submit an affirmative statement of continuing interest in having their plans reviewed.
Although we are cautiously optimistic that the FCC may now finally be ready to review the remaining ETC compliance plans and applications that have sat dormant for four long years, it is worth noting that of the more than fifty compliance plans currently pending, the FCC chose to approve the two compliance plans specifically dedicated to wireline service. While the approval of the wireline compliance plans of Global Connection and Phone Club Corporation is promising, it may not signal the beginning of review for all compliance plans currently pending with the FCC. Additionally, the FCC states in the Public Notice that the approvals were necessary as a prerequisite for both Phone Club Corporation and Global Connection to obtain “the necessary ETC designations from the relevant state commissions” to “prevent any disruption of the Lifeline benefit for impacted wireline customers.” Such was the case because of the reforms the FCC implemented in the 2015 Lifeline Order & FNPRM preventing non-ETC Lifeline resellers from seeking reimbursement from the program. Therefore, the FCC may have granted approval for these wireline compliance plans only to avoid service disruption for wireline consumers, without the intention to begin processing the many pending wireless compliance plans on a broader scale.
The FCC is intent on moving the Lifeline program into the 21st century and will likely look most favorably upon those carriers with plans updated to describe how they will provision Lifeline-supported broadband service. Therefore, it is important to note that both Global Connection and Phone Club Corporation recently revised their compliance plans in accordance with the Lifeline Modernization Order. A quick review of WC Docket No. 09-197 shows that not all carriers have updated their pending compliance plans in accordance with the changes in the Lifeline program. We strongly urge all carriers with compliance plans pending with the FCC to update their plans in accordance with the 2015 Lifeline Order & FNPRM and the Lifeline Modernization Order.