In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) directed the Wireline Competition Bureau to submit a State of the Lifeline Marketplace Report by June 30, 2021. This report is intended to provide meaningful insight on how the FCC should continue to administer the Lifeline program. 

The FCC’s findings will inform decisions to make modernizing changes to eligible service offerings and minimum service standard requirements. Changes include increasing data caps on mobile phone plans, phasing out voice-only subsidies, and evaluating how the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (“EBBP”) interacts with existing Lifeline structures.

On April 19th, Next Century Cities filed comments highlighting the following points:

  • The FCC should not phase out voice-only support, as many subscribers rely on calls and texts to receive critical employment, health, and emergency service updates. 
  • For those who do not have reliable access to broadband, voice service may be the only means for some low-income households to stay connected to friends and family.
  • Any increase to the Lifeline minimum service standards should come with a proportional increase in the Lifeline subsidy amount. That is critical for protecting low-income Americans that would otherwise be priced out of subscriptions.
  • The EBBP is complementary to the Lifeline program. While they have similar goals, the mechanisms are different. Notably, the Lifeline program is a permanent subsidy program while the EBB is only an emergency response measure.

Lifeline is woefully underutilized. Nonetheless, is essential for the millions of Americans that rely on its phone and wireless broadband service options. The public comments submitted in the State of the Lifeline Marketplace Report will help shape how the program evolves. To that end, Next Century Cities filed comments to highlight the unintended consequences of the current proposal, which could undermine community-level strategies to connect every resident.  

Read NCC’s comments here.