“Internet access has become a pre-requisite for full participation in our economy and our society, but nearly one in five Americans is still not benefitting from the opportunities made possible by the most powerful and pervasive platform in history.”
Those were the words of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in a post at the Commission’s website announcing a new, modern direction for the Lifeline program. They are words we can all agree with. But beyond those words are the FCC’s actual plan to modernize Lifeline and whether the path put forward by the Commission will be the most effective one they can take.
Reduced to its key ingredients, the FCC’s plan has four key parts:
1) It expands the program to cover broadband internet access services;
2) It sets minimum service standards for both voice and broadband;
3) It streamlines the rules governing the program by eliminating unnecessary regulation;
4) It utilizes a National Eligibility Verifier to take overseeing Lifeline eligibility out of the hands of the carriers
On the surface, each of these four parts are a step in the right direction. In fact, all four were, in some fashion, a part of the recommendations in our Lifeline white paper. But as with any regulatory shift — especially for a program as large and as important as Lifeline — the true success of the FCC’s reform plan can’t be measured until all the details come to light and the plan is actually implemented. So for now we get to play the waiting game.
Still, Chairman Wheeler and the other FCC Commissioners should be commended for listening to every interested party when it comes to reforming Lifeline. The plan the Commission has put forward may not be perfect — for example, there has yet to mention of much-needed eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) reform. And the devil will, of course, be in the plan’s details. But what the FCC has revealed of the plan so far is definitely encouraging.