Monday, May 23, 2016

FCC brings Internet under Lifeline program – but without universal service obligation

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has issued a final rulemaking bringing Internet service under the Lifeline program established in 1985 requiring discounted telephone service for qualifying low-income households.

However, under the final rule, incumbent telephone companies are not required to offer discounted Internet service to a Lifeline eligible low-income household requesting service in areas where the companies have not modernized and built out their plants to provide Internet service. That contravenes the FCC’s Open Internet rulemaking adopted in 2015 classifying Internet as a common carrier telecommunications utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Title II requires Internet service be provided upon reasonable request. The final rule also exempts telephone companies receiving FCC subsidies for universal service support in high cost areas from having to provide Lifeline Internet service.

We are sympathetic to ILECs’ (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier) concerns about requiring them to offer broadband in Census blocks within their ETC designated service areas …where broadband services are not commercially available,” the final rule states. “In addition, for recipients of high-cost support, in those areas where the provider receives high-cost support but has not yet deployed a broadband network consistent with the provider’s high-cost public interest obligation to offer broadband, the obligation to provide Lifeline broadband services does not begin until such time as the provider has deployed a broadband network and is commercially offering service to that area.”

Despite the final rule’s contravention of the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Rulemaking, the FCC employs Orwellian doublespeak in insisting it does not:
“Our actions today are consistent with the universal service goals promulgated by Congress. Congress articulated national goals in Section 254 of the Act that services should be available at “affordable” rates and that “consumers in all regions of the nation, including low-income consumers . . . should have access to telecommunications and information services.”

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