Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler has circulated for consideration an order to modernise the watchdog’s long-running Lifeline programme, ‘to efficiently and effectively meet a critical 21st Century need: making broadband more affordable for low-income consumers’. With affordability still the largest single barrier to broadband adoption in low income households, the draft would effectively ‘reboot’ the Lifeline programme to enable all Americans to share in the opportunities broadband connectivity provides.
The draft order proposes that, for the first time, low income consumers could apply the USD9.25 per month support to stand-alone broadband service as well as bundled voice and data service packages. The order also seeks to free up the Lifeline market segment to encourage wide participation in the programme by broadband providers, thus giving consumers competitive service options. Further, the order seeks to establish a National Eligibility Verifier to deter waste, fraud and potential for abuse.
Since 1985, Lifeline subsidies have helped make phone services more affordable for low-income Americans. In 2005, Lifeline discounts were made available to qualifying low-income consumers on pre-paid wireless service plans in addition to traditional landline service. The Lifeline programme is available to eligible users in every state, territory, commonwealth, as well as on Tribal lands. Lifeline is part of the FCC’s Universal Service Fund.