FCC Throwing 'Lifeline' to Low-Income Internet

The FCC has taken another step toward fulfilling the policy goal of closing the "digital divide."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn are circulating a draft order to expand the FCC's Lifeline program to make broadband more affordable for low-income consumers. The draft order will be voted on by the full commission at the March 31 Open Meeting.

The FCC first started looking into using Lifeline funds for low-income broadband last May, when Chairman Wheeler sought input on a number of proposals that now appear in the draft order. The draft makes no mention of the federal ConnectHome program announced last July, but rather appears to be a different way to skin the same cat.

Lifeline, initially created to subsidize phone service, runs on money from the Universal Service Fund (USF), which all phone customers pay into. Currently, Lifeline subsidies - up to $9.25 a month per qualifying household - cannot be used for stand-alone broadband Internet service. The draft order, budgeted at $2.25 billion, aims to change that.

Under the draft order, low-income consumers could apply the $9.25 per month Lifeline support to stand-alone broadband service as well as bundled voice and data service packages. It would also establish minimum service standards and a third-party National Eligibility Verifier intended to deter waste, fraud and abuse.

According to the FCC's fact sheet, the proposed order would:

  • Allow Lifeline support for stand-alone mobile or fixed broadband Internet access service
  • Allow Lifeline support for bundling of fixed or mobile voice and broadband
  • Support mobile voice with unlimited talk through the end of 2019, after which Lifeline providers of mobile services will be required to include broadband as part of any supported service
  • Support fixed-only voice service
  • Promote Lifeline-supported mobile devices with WiFi
  • Require a mid-2019 program review and report by the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau

Minimum service standards would include:

  • Fixed-line Internet speeds of 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream
  • Minimum monthly fixed broadband usage allowance of 150 GB
  • Phased minimum standards for mobile broadband service, starting at 500 MB per month of 3G data, increasing to 2 GB per month by the end of 2018
  • Unlimited minutes for mobile voice service, starting Dec. 1
  • A gradual phase-down of support for standalone mobile voice over three years: reduced from $9.25 per month to $7.25 on Dec. 1, 2017, $5.25 on Dec. 1, 2018, and no support after Dec, 1, 2019
  • Support for mobile voice as part of a mobile voice and data bundle

Industry reaction to the proposed order has been slow in coming, but favorable so far. Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), which currently connects more than 500,000 low-income broadband households via its Internet Essentials program, generally likes the idea, but cautions that the digital divide can't entirely be filled by throwing money at it.

In a blog post, Comcast Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer in Public Policy David Cohen wrote, in part: "Rigorous quantitative research by the Census Bureau and NTIA, and economists at the FCC, has shown that the primary barrier to adoption is not the cost of the service, but rather is a bucket of digital literacy issues, including a perceived lack of relevance of the Internet and a lack of understanding as to its value or usefulness. For example, in October 2014, the NTIA, found that 48% of households who do not adopt broadband cited lack of need/lack of interest as the main reason. And last December, in its Home Broadband 2015 report, the Pew Charitable Trust found that 70% of non-adopters were not interested in subscribing to broadband in the future. Any proposed solutions must address all the different drivers of non-adoption."

The full text of the fact sheet on the draft order is available here.

Get the Broadband Technology Report Newsletters Delivered to Your Inbox

Subscribe to email newsletters today at no cost and receive the latest information on:

  • Video Technology
  • Network Technology
  • Technology Alerts
  • BTR LATAM (Latin America)

SCTE-Cable Tec Expo 2016 Video Show Dailies

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 3

In our Video Show Daily for Day 3 of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy covers trends in distrib...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 2

In our Video Show Daily for the second day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy highlights furt...

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR's SCTE-Cable Tec Expo Video Show Daily, Day 1

BTR Editorial Director Stephen Hardy reviews the hot technologies and announcements from the first day of exhibits at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016 in P...

Diamond Technology Reviews - 2016 High Scores

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

2016 Diamond Technology Reviews Slideshow

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

Diamond Technology Reviews 2016

BTR's Diamond Technology Reviews, now in its twelfth year, is a technology recognition program wherein vendors serving the broadband cable ...

Related Articles

Cable ONE

2 More AZ Towns Get Cable ONE Gigabit

October 7, 2016

Cable ONE (NYSE:CABO) is expanding its GigaONE gigabit Internet footprin...


Comcast Launches Enterprise IoT Trial

October 6, 2016

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) announced machineQ, a business trial venture focu...


2016 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo Wrap Up

Whether you couldn't make it to Cable-Tec this year or want to see if you missed anything while you were there, you'll want to join BTR editors Stephen Hardy and Ron Hendrickson as they reveal their picks for the...

October 12, 2016
Sponsored by

Counting the cost: Efficiently transitioning from HFC to FTTH

HFC networks are uniquely positioned to provide compelling and competitive services, and are also uniquely positioned to transition to symmetrical FTTH as commercial requirements demand.  This webinar will d...

Date:September 22, 2016
Sponsored by

Maintaining High Quality of Experience in an Adaptive Bitrate System

This webinar will look at the many points in an ABR system where the video is touched.  From ingest (satellite, file, and IP), to egress, each point should be qualified for compliance to help maintain a high...

Date:August 25, 2016
Sponsored by

White Papers & Special Reports

Cable VoIP 2.0: Voice Moves to the Cloud

October 2016

Cable providers led the charge on the VoIP evolution and won customers and market share. Now voice networks are evolving again. The cloud voice platform has ...

Understanding Ultra High Definition Television

October 2016

Over the last 10 years, high definition television (HDTV) has been replacing standard definition television as the expected viewing format for television pro...

Are You Ready for DOCSIS 3.1? The Future of Cable Technology and How to Prepare Your Network

October 2016

DOCSIS 3.1 promises 10x capacity throughput and a range of technical benefits for cable providers and users alike. Are you ready? Discover the technical adva...

BTR Blogs

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

FCC Rethinks Set-Top Plan

September 10, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - The FCC has reworked the "unlock the set-top b...


In Memoriam: Richard Covell

August 18, 2016

By Rob Stuehrk, Publisher - We at Broadband Technology Report were sadde...

BTR Managing Editor Ron Hendrickson

Court Overturns FCC Municipal Broadband Order

August 11, 2016

By Ron Hendrickson - You win some, and you lose some, and the FCC just l...

Featured Hangouts

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this inf...

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

DOCSIS 3.1: A Look Ahead

Watch a 30-minute video chat of experts from a variety of related disciplines discuss how close deployments really ar...

Featured Hangout

4K 4 U: How to Prepare for UltraHD Video

4K/UltraHD video is coming - consumers are buying the TV sets, and more content is becoming available. Watch this informative Hangout on demand by clicking the link above.

Sponsored by Verimatrix.