SOURCE: The National Lifeline Association

The National Lifeline Association

November 16, 2017 08:59 ET

56 Members Of Congress Sign Letter To FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Opposing Changes To The Lifeline Program Which Attack Low-income Families, Veterans, and Native American Tribes

KENNETT SQUARE, PA--(Marketwired - Nov 16, 2017) - The National Lifeline Association (Referred to as "NaLA") reports that 56 members of Congress have signed and delivered a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai opposing changes to the Lifeline Program which attack low-income families, Veterans, and Native American Tribes.

The Lifeline Program was created 30 years ago by President Reagan to help ensure that the most vulnerable Americans - which include low-income families, Veterans, and Native Americans - have access to lifesaving communications services. The program was updated and reformed under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to accommodate for technological advances and to strengthen the program's integrity by minimizing fraud, waste, and abuse.

The program currently provides a modest monthly subsidy of $9.25 from Universal Service Funds, to connect low-income Americans with telephone and Internet services.

Proposed changes by the FCC to the Lifeline Program include:

  • Major cuts and budget caps on the Lifeline program, which may shrink the size of all recipient benefits

  • Lifetime cap on individual users which could inflict arbitrary limits on participation and completely cut off those in need

  • Ban "non-facilities-based providers" from participating in the Lifeline Program

The following statement may be attributed to David Dorwart, Chairman of NaLA: "By banning 'non-facilities-based providers' from participating in the Lifeline program, 80% of the top Lifeline providers will be forced to stop service, resulting in disconnections for approximately 7.5 million Lifeline recipients nationwide. In some areas of the country, these are the only providers that offer Lifeline service. As a result, as many as three-quarters of the current Lifeline subscriber base will be stripped of this crucial service, including over 1.3 million active and retired Veterans and more than half of all current Tribal Lifeline subscribers."

If ultimately adopted, Chairman Pai's proposals would roll back the United States' longstanding commitment that advanced telecommunications services should be universally available to and affordable for all Americans. According to Public Knowledge, "The Chairman's plan would strand millions of low-income families, Veterans, and children without affordable communications services, and drastically curtail their access to the education, job training, and basic services that increasingly require an internet connection. Rather than moving forward with this plan that would harm the most vulnerable, the FCC should refocus its efforts to promote affordable, competitive broadband for all Americans, and ensure that the Lifeline program remains a core component of our efforts to close the digital divide."

An excerpt from the Congressional letter reads as follows:

Dear Chairman Pai,

We are alarmed to learn of your recently circulated proposals that would eviscerate the Lifeline program and leave many of the most vulnerable people in the country without access to affordable communications. As you are well aware, the Lifeline program provides a modest monthly subsidy of $9.25 to connect low-income Americans to phone and internet services. As broadband prices continue to soar, and affordability continues to suffer, adoption gaps remain. The Lifeline program has proven critical for poor families and people of color who are caught on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Among the most troubling proposals you suggested are overall budget caps on the program that could shrink the size of all recipients' benefits, as well as a lifetime cap on individual users that could completely cut off those still in need. These caps are both extremely harmful, as these changes could inflict arbitrary limits on participation or slash funding to eligible participants; and unnecessary because the program has been shrinking for the past 5 years and payments are their lowest since 2009. In your dissenting opinion in the 2016 Lifeline Reform Order, you conceded that the reforms implemented in the 2012 Lifeline Order were working and as a result, spending for the Lifeline program has been on a steady decline. Given the effectiveness of driving down program costs without undue harm to recipients, which unfortunately were not reflected in a recent May 2017 GAO Report on the program, there is no need to implement an arbitrary cap...

Please click the link to read the Congressional letter in its entirety:

https://meeks.house.gov/sites/meeks.house.gov/files/wysiwyg_uploaded/final_Meeks-Moore%20Lifeline%20Letter.pdf

Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, stated, "In our modern, highly technological and interconnected world, internet and phone service are all but required to lead a functional life. Many Americans still don't have phone and Internet access, rendering it nearly impossible to complete everyday tasks, such as finishing assigned schoolwork or conducting a phone interview." He also stated, "The digital divide -- which Chairman Pai promised he would seek to minimize -- persists today and the Lifeline Program is critical in helping minimize it. Yet, Chairman Pai's proposed changes would practically decimate the Lifeline program, upon which millions of Americans rely. Indeed, this is nothing more than a poorly disguised attack on our nation's most vulnerable citizens. I thank Congresswoman Moore and the co-signers and endorsing organizations of this letter for partnering with me to stand against Chairman Pai's efforts to widen the digital divide."

Organizations endorsing the congressional letter opposing changes to the Lifeline Program include: National Lifeline Association (NaLA), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Communications Workers of America (CWA), Public Knowledge, Free Press, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Benton Foundation, Greenlining Institute, United Church of Christ, Common Sense Kids Action, National Consumer Law Center, The Utility Reform Network, OpenMedia, OCA- Asian Pacific American Advocates, New America's Open Technology Institute, Appalshop, Inc.

The National Lifeline Association (NaLA) takes the position that these proposed changes will widen the digital divide facing low-income Americans and are unnecessary given successful reforms to the Lifeline Program, including the December 2017 launch of the National Verifier. Because Lifeline accounts for less than 20% of the allocations to the Universal Service Fund (source: 2016 USAC Annual Budget) and is currently running at about $1 billion a year below its budget, steps aimed at reducing the program's budget, participation levels and disbursements are indefensible.

About The National Lifeline Association (NaLA):

The National Lifeline Association is the only industry trade group specifically focused on the Lifeline segment of telecommunications. We support the 4 essential components of Lifeline: ETCs & Providers, Distributors, Lifeline Supporters & Participants, and Government & Regulatory Bodies. We are passionate about the continuity and advancement of the Lifeline program and we drive this vision through our mission to "support providers, distributors, participants, and supporters of Lifeline through education, cooperation, and advocacy."

NaLA's Vision:

In America, every person should have access to essential communication services.

For comprehensive information regarding the FCC's proposed changes to the Lifeline program, letter from Congress, industry analysis, and sources please go to www.nalalifeline.org.

Contact Information

  • Media Contact and Information:
    The National Lifeline Association
    Lynn Martin
    Phone: (844) 937-6252
    Email:info@nalalifeline.org