FCC Waives Lifeline Program Rules

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The FCC Tuesday made changes to the Lifeline program to help program participants potentially affected by the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic and aid community efforts to slow its spread. The Lifeline program ensures that low-income Americans have access to affordable communications services by providing monthly discounts on broadband and voice services to qualifying consumers. The changes are part of the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Initiative to ensure that consumers stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wireline Competition Bureau is waiving the Lifeline program’s recertification and reverification requirements for participating low-income consumers for 60 days. It’s also waiving for 60 days the requirement that participating carriers’ enrollment representatives register with the Lifeline program administrator, the Universal Service Administrative Company. These changes will ease burdens on subscribers during the coronavirus pandemic and allow carriers to focus their efforts on assisting customers, according to the Commission.  

“As Americans across the country turn to online services to enable social distancing measures, the importance of access to affordable communications, especially for low-income households, has only increased,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “During times of crisis, maintaining connections to family and friends, medical professionals and educators, and your coworkers is imperative, and I don’t want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity.” 

Last week, Pai announced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, under which broadband and telephone providers committed to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Telecoms also pledged to waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and open their WiFi hotspots to any American who needs them. 

Additionally, the Chairman exhorted those companies with low-income broadband programs like the Connect2Compete program to expand and improve them (for example, by increasing speeds to 25/3 Mbps and expanding eligibility) and those without to adopt such programs. He also called on telephone carriers to waive long-distance and overage fees in appropriate circumstances.

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