The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau has granted temporary waivers of the Lifeline non-usage and recertification rules to help the more than 1.1 million Lifeline customers in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands affected by Hurricane Irma.
Both i-wireless, LLC and Telrite Corporation had filed separate petitions requesting waivers of the non-usage and recertification rules, including sections 54.405(e)(3)-(4), 54.407(c)(2) and 54.410(f) of the FCC’s rules, due to the chaotic conditions residents face in the wake of the major hurricane. The petition requested by i-wireless asks the FCC to suspend the rules for a minimum of 90 days in Florida, while Telrite’s petition requested the FCC suspend the rules for a minimum of 60 days in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Both petitions further requested that the waiver continue until the FCC assessed the situation and determined that lifting the waiver was in the public interest.
The Bureau noted in its orders that interruptions to Internet and telephone service would “make it difficult, if not impossible” for subscribers to receive and respond to reminders. Moreover, ETCs would be unlikely to have reliable access to the eligibility databases for Florida and Puerto Rico to conduct automated eligibility reverifications.
There are approximately 677,000 Lifeline subscribers in Florida, 518,000 Lifeline subscribers in Puerto Rico, and another 1,500 in the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to the Bureau, the waivers will help low-income consumers retain access to emergency communication services during the aftermath of the disaster and will allow ETCs to continue providing service to the disaster victims in the areas.
Although the Bureau agreed that some waiver period was appropriate, it granted the waiver for a fixed amount of time (90 days, starting on Sept. 7 for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and on Sept. 8 for Florida) rather than the open-ended waiver that the petitioners had requested. After the expiration of the waiver period, Lifeline subscribers subject to the non-usage rule will have 30 days to use their service, and subscribers that are subject to recertification will have 60 days to complete the recertification process. It remains to be seen whether ETCs will seek an extension of the waiver beyond the 90 days, or whether the FCC will ultimately extend the waiver to other states affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.