On December 1, 2016, the day before new eligibility and port freeze rules imposed by the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order on Lifeline-supported broadband services were to take effect, the FCC granted in part the petitions of eight states seeking waivers to delay implementation of a portion of the new Lifeline eligibility rules that remove state-specific programs from the list of federal Lifeline-qualifying programs. California and Oregon also received permission to delay implementation of the Commission’s new port freeze rules.  However, the FCC declined to delay implementation of the Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit program as a Lifeline qualifying program, and declined to grant several other petitions, including that of US Telecom.

More Time for State Databases to Integrate New Rules

In the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order, the FCC modernized and streamlined its Lifeline eligibility rules and announced a new centralized database solution – the National Verifier – to handle eligibility verification.

The December 1 Order grants certain states more time to implement the new eligibility rules (California, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin) in order to give those states more time to remove the state-specific programs as qualifying programs from those state databases.   The FCC found that those states showed that more time was needed to update their state eligibility databases to align with the new federal criteria.  The waivers each allow those states an additional six to twelve months to comply, specifically giving the respective states until:

  • June 30, 2017 (Washington),
  • Oct. 31, 2017 (California, Vermont, Maryland),
  • Dec. 1, 2017 (New York),
  • and Dec. 31, 2017 (Wisconsin, Michigan).

More Time for States to Integrate Port Freezes for Lifeline Broadband Services

The FCC also granted waivers to California and Oregon on the separate issue of port freezes.  Under the new rule that took effect December 2, Lifeline broadband Internet access services subscribers are subject to a one-year freeze, while voice customers are subject to a 60-day freeze on transferring a Lifeline benefit from one provider to another.

The Public Utility Commission of Oregon, which has opted out of using the NLAD, explained it needed additional time to build and implement two new processes into its state-run database -- one process for checking eligibility, and another process for the new port freeze guidelines.  The California Public Utilities Commission made a similar plea, explaining that implementation would require significant changes to the state’s enrollment process and the California LifeLine database, which are both administered by a third-party administrator.

California and Oregon now have until June 1, 2017 (or until the state has updated its relevant state databases and processes, if earlier) to comply with the new port freeze rules.

Qualifying Veterans’ Benefits

Despite granting the state petitions in most respects, the FCC declined to delay the requirement to treat the Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit Program as a qualifying program for Lifeline.  The Commission found that there was no record evidence that accepting documentation of participation in that program would be unreasonably burdensome, noting that providers already evaluate other program-based eligibility manually.  The Commission further found no “factual basis to discern the special circumstances that might justify a waiver” and said a delay would be an obstacle to meeting the “established need for armed forces veterans to access affordable phone service.”

Petitions of USTelecom and Other States

The FCC denied the waiver requests of United States Telecom Association (USTelecom), the Missouri Public Service Commission and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to delay implementation of the amended eligibility rules. The FCC held that USTelecom did not provide good cause to delay implementation of the new eligibility criteria in the 28 states without their own eligibility databases.  The FCC was not swayed by comments by Cox, Sprint, TracFone, CTIA and others in support of USTelecom’s waiver petition, stating that the comments

similarly fail[ed] to demonstrate any state-specific issues that would warrant a temporary waiver to give states time to align their state databases and laws with the amended Lifeline eligibility rules.”

Similarly, the Commission denied the requests of the Missouri Public Service Commission and the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, noting that neither had a state-specific database, and holding that the two state commissions had not shown sufficient cause to justify a delay.