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FCC Extends Broadband to Lifeline Subsidy Program

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In a move aimed to bridge the digital divide and bring broadband to the indigent, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to modernize the three-decade-old Lifeline program.

Beginning in 1985 following the divestiture of AT&T, the Lifeline program has offered a discount on phone service to qualifying, low-income consumers.

But for the first time in the history of the program, households will be able to obtain subsidies for standalone broadband service as well as bundled voice and data service packages. The FCC also created a streamlined entry for a new category of broadband providers to participate in the Lifeline program, according to an FCC news release.

Bob Quinn, AT&T senior vice president of Federal Regulatory, said in a blog that “positive steps were taken to move Lifeline into the 21st century by beginning the transition of the program from voice to broadband.”{ad}

“The agency also started the process of removing carriers from determining whether or not consumers are eligible to receive the benefits of Lifeline service,” Quinn wrote. “The administrative reforms contemplated by today’s action will enable service providers to focus on better serving the participants in the program.”

An order adopted by the FCC maintained the current $9.25 monthly subsidy per household and imposed a budget of $2.25 billion for the Lifeline program. Individuals who are at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines may be eligible for discounts under Lifeline, according to the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which manages the program. USAC said the Lifeline Program had $1.60 billion in authorized support in 2014.

Lifeline has not been without controversy. In 2012, the FCC adopted reforms to the program to crack down on abuse, waste and fraud. The FCC on Thursday said the new order strengthens its previous reforms.

“In addition to moving the Lifeline program into the 21st century by expanding it to include broadband, the FCC also took important steps to ensure the program benefits from increased administrative efficiency,” USTelecom President and CEO Walter B. McCormick Jr. said. “By establishing a national system for verifying consumer eligibility for the program, the FCC can work toward reducing instances of waste, fraud, and abuse. We look forward to working with the commission to implement the changes in the program.”


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