The FCC Tuesday eased the Lifeline program application and enrollment process during the COVID-19 pandemic for low-income consumers living on rural tribal lands. Lifeline provides qualifying low-income consumers with monthly discounts on broadband and voice services, including a monthly markdown of up to $34.25 in tribal areas.
Specifically, the Wireline Competition Bureau issued a temporary waiver to allow Lifeline carriers to begin providing service even if consumers have not yet submitted documentation to complete their application. A carrier can claim Lifeline support for service provided during the application process after the subscriber has submitted the necessary documentation and received confirmation of his or her eligibility.
“Low-income consumers in these remote areas may find it difficult to submit the required documentation to enroll in the Lifeline program, and the social distancing required during this pandemic only makes this problem worse,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. He said the waiver, “will give consumers easier, quicker access to the affordable broadband service they need for telehealth, online learning, telework, and communicating with loved ones during the pandemic, and it will give Lifeline carriers the flexibility needed to help these consumers safely complete the application process.”
Under FCC rules, if applicants fail an automated check used to confirm their qualification for the program (e.g., to confirm their identity or eligibility as a low-income consumer), they must provide supporting documentation to complete their application before receiving Lifeline service. Consumers living in rural areas on tribal lands already face difficulties in providing this documentation, given the need to travel long distances to send mail, lack of electricity, and absence of road infrastructure in some areas. The challenges brought by the spread of COVID-19 now add to these hardships.
The order also extends the bureau’s recent waivers of Lifeline recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, usage, and income documentation requirements through August 31. This extension will help ensure that no existing Lifeline subscribers are involuntarily removed from the program during the waiver period.