The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has modernized and reformed its Lifeline program to help low income consumers afford access to the 21st Century's vital communications network: the Internet.
Since 1985, Lifeline has helped make telephone service affordable for low-income Americans. Today, consumers need Internet access for full and meaningful participation in society—yet, according to the FCC, 43 percent of the nation's poorest households say they can't afford modern broadband service.
To help close this digital divide, the new Order adopted by the Commission refocuses Lifeline support on broadband, which will enable low-income Americans to share in the 21st Century opportunities that access to the Internet provides. At the same time, the FCC says that the new rules build on recent reforms in the program to combat waste fraud and abuse and increase program efficiency.
For the first time, Lifeline will support stand-alone broadband service as well as bundled voice and data service packages. To spark competitive service options for Lifeline consumers, the new rules will unlock the Lifeline broadband marketplace to attract additional providers. The FCC also says that the new service standards will ensure that supported services meet modern needs.
The rules significantly strengthen the Commission's landmark 2012 reforms of the program by establishing an independent National Eligibility Verifier to confirm subscriber eligibility. At the same time the verifier deters waste, fraud and abuse, it will encourage participation by legitimate providers by removing the burden of eligibility screening, according to the FCC.
A budget mechanism will also limit Lifeline's cost to ratepayers.
The FCC says that these and other changes will fully modernize Lifeline to support broadband service and obtain the highest possible value from the expenditure of Universal Service funds.