On March 12, 2018 the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) hosted a briefing for Senate staff to discuss the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposals to destabilize and fundamentally alter the core purpose of the Lifeline program.
The Lifeline program was created in 1985 under the Reagan administration to provide a modest subsidy for landline telephones. In 2005 the program was expanded by the Bush administration to mobile phones. Recently, in 2016, the program was modernized and expanded to stand-alone broadband access. The FCC released proposed changes to the program on December 1, 2017 which were the core of the discussion at the briefing.
Cheryl Leanza (UCC OC, Inc.), Phillip Berenbroick (Public Knowledge), Carmen Scurato (NHMC), and Kham Moua (OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates) were among the panelists discussing the impact of the proposed changes on the poor and other marginalized communities.
Ms. Leanza provided an overview Lifeline as a private-public partnership, and emphasized that the goals of the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order were to enhance broadband access, competition, and program integrity. Mr. Berenbroick discussed the proposals to (1) eliminate the Lifeline Broadband Provider designation process; (2) eliminate resellers from the program; (3) impose a maximum discount level “co-pay”; (4) implement self-enforcing budget cap; and (5) potentially add lifetime limit to the Lifeline benefit. Taken all together, Mr. Berenbroick explained that these proposals will harm the Lifeline program. Ms. Scurato continued the discussion by sharing statistics, with a focus on the impact that the these proposals would have on the residents of Puerto Rico still reeling in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. For example, removing resellers from the program would cut-off approximately 75% of Puerto Rico’s current Lifeline subscribers, translating into over 369,000 individuals. Mr. Moua concluded with specific ways that Senate offices can engage in the Lifeline docket and oppose the FCC’s efforts to restructure and destabilize the program.
To close out the briefing, former FCC Commissioner and current Special Policy Advisor for NHMC, Gloria Tristani, discussed the importance of the Lifeline program from a historical perspective, emphasizing the need to preserve the only federal program aimed at defraying the high cost of voice and broadband service.
For NHMC’s fact sheet explaining the impact of the FCC’s proposals for Lifeline, click here.