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FCC Releases Report and Order on Lifeline Program

The FCC has released its Report and Order reforming and modernizing Lifeline, a program vital to ensuring affordable communications for low-income consumers.  As a universal service program that fulfills Congress’s mandate to ensure the availability of communications to all Americans, Lifeline for the past 25 years has helped tens of millions of low-income Americans afford basic phone service.  Access to telephone service is essential for finding a job, connecting with family, or getting help in an emergency, and the percentage of low-income households with phone service has increased from 80% in 1985, when Lifeline began, to nearly 92% last year.



But the program faces real challenges, including rules that have failed to keep pace as consumers increasingly choose wireless phone service.  The FCC’s Lifeline reforms address these and other challenges, including through:

    Modernizing Lifeline
•    Adopting an express goal for the program of ensuring availability of broadband for all low-income Americans.
•    Establish a Broadband Adoption Pilot Program using up to $25 million in savings from other reforms to test and determine how Lifeline can best be used to increase broadband adoption among Lifeline-eligible consumers. Starting this year, the program will solicit applications from broadband providers and will select a number of projects to fund. Lifeline will help reduce the monthly cost of broadband service, but applicants will be expected to help address other challenges to broadband adoption, including the cost of devices and digital literacy.
•    Proposes increasing digital literacy training at libraries and schools. A Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on using savings from other Universal Service Fund reforms to increase digital literacy training at libraries and schools, a key step in increasing broadband adoption.
•    Build on FCC efforts to close the broadband adoption gap and address digital literacy, including the Connect-to-Compete initiative, which enlists government, non-profit, and private sector leaders to address broadband adoption barriers through digital literacy training and low-cost broadband availability.
•    Allow Lifeline support for bundled services plans combining voice and broadband or packages including optional calling features.

In conjunction with the R&O, the Commission has released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which, among other things, seeks comment on the use of universal service funding to address the barrier that lack of digital literacy creates to increased broadband adoption among low-income Americans.

NATOA submitted comments in this proceeding arguing that Lifeline funding should be made available for broadband funding.  Our comments are cited several times in the R&O.  

You can read the R&O and FNPRM by going to: http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2012/db0206/FCC-12-11A1.pdf