Business Misconceptions and the NPRM

By: Dave Skogen, NaLA Board Member

FCC Broadband InitiativeEvery American should have access to essential communication services, and in today’s world, that includes Broadband service. The Lifeline framework can, and should, be a critical tool to help make that idea a reality. In its recently released Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Order of Reconsideration, Second Report and Order and Memorandum Opinion and Order (“NPRM”), the FCC makes it clear that they understand that and I applaud them for it.

The NPRM is sure to initiate significant commentary, and those of us in the Lifeline community must play a central role in that debate. While Regulatory and policy arguments will be forthcoming, it is important for all of us in the industry to help educate decision makers on what I see as misconceptions from a business perspective. Incorrect assumptions on business issues pose a serious threat to sound policy making and effectively moving the program forward in a way that is optimal for the American public.

In my view, the primary areas where there is seemingly a break from perception and reality – from a business perspective – are (a) the current $9.25 reimbursement can and should be funding consumer offers beyond those currently in the market (b) shifting consumer eligibility away from Lifeline providers would remove a significant financial burden from them and (c) the lack of greater competition is largely due to the existing ETC framework.


In the NPRM, the FCC suggests that the current structure may not “extract” enough value for the fund and consumers. To support this, the Commission points out that the common industry offer of 250 minutes per month has gone largely unchanged in three years. It also notes that non Lifeline services have seen reduced prices in that period, and that consumers may have to pay out of pocket for services at a new minimum standard.

There are several things the Commission may not fully understand regarding the existing model (again, from a business perspective).

  • The commission argues that the offer has gone stagnant during this time, but does not mention that the 250 minute offer was developed prior to the elimination of Link Up. That alone is a $30 “extraction” from providers.
  • While the commission points out that wholesale telco prices may have been reduced during the period, it ignores other significant and real costs of providing services. There has been no reduction in phone costs and, as penetration rates have increased, distribution costs have also gone up. While these may not be considered “supported services”, from a practical perspective that is not relevant as the financial model does not change due to such distinctions.

The evidence that the offer is not unduly enriching providers is evidenced by the FCC’s own statements. They point out that there are several providers yet the general offer has not changed. If the flexibility on the offer was not limited due to financial reasons tied to the $9.25 reimbursement rate, we would naturally see competitors differentiating themselves through enhanced offers. Simply forcing higher minimum standards upon providers will not lead to improvements for consumers, but will simply force providers abandon customer outreach, reducing options for consumers.


The debate on where eligibility determination should lie is beyond the scope of this piece. Here, the discussion is limited to the FCC’s perception on the costs associated with that function. This is relevant because an overestimation of costs may (a) justify the FCC spending an unreasonable amount to support the function, (b) overcharge carriers, ultimately harming consumers and (c) inaccurately influence the decision making process.

Currently, the eligibility determination is done during the enrollment process. It is but one of the several steps a carrier and consumer must go through at that time. Other items include describing the program and offering, going over the large number of disclosures, covering Terms and Conditions, instructing the consumer on use of the product, etc. Eligibility determination takes a small percentage of that time. Adding a third party to the process only lengthens it, especially if it cannot be done in real time, as the Commission suggests. On top of that, the third party must be compensated. In short, while other merits of the proposal may be debated, this change would ADD costs for the provider and the overall Lifeline ecosystem, not reduce them.


The NPRM discusses potential changes to the ETC designation process and a potential alternative with the goal of encouraging more competition. The possible merits and issues with those approaches are beyond the scope of this paper. However, it is worth noting that the existing framework could provide much greater competition if the FCC simply executed within it. Dozens of Compliance Plans and Federal ETCs (created at no small expense by carriers) have gone simply unaddressed for literally years. If increased competition is truly desired, an immediate way to address that seems obvious.

All of these issues matter, because – again – sound policy making must be built on a reasonable understanding of market realities. Where that is not the case, it is incumbent on all of us to educate those influencing policy.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of NaLA or its members.

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NaLA Post Conference Survey

We felt as if we had a really successful 2015 NaLA Spring Conference, and the results of the survey below corroborate that suspicion. We thought we would share the results of the survey and invite our members to comment on the show within the blog if they had any thoughts.

Thanks for a great show! We are looking forward to the next event!

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Spring Conference Breakout & Discussion Topics Survey

Create your own user feedback survey

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Jordan AxtSpring Conference Breakout & Discussion Topics Survey
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NaLA Spring Conference Hotel Registrations

Hotel & Venue Details & Registration Link

2015 NaLA Spring Conference
May 18th-21st, New Orleans

The Royal Sonesta – New Orleans, LA

The National Lifeline Association is happy to announce that it has chosen The Royal Sonesta in New Orleans as its event venue and host hotel. Registered and paid attendees of the NaLA Spring Conference can click the link below to register and take advantage of our group rate and reserved rooms.



Please be sure to either make your reservation by clicking the button above or by referencing group code 0517NALAAC when you call the hotel to ensure you receive our discounted group rate and reserved rooms.

The Royal Sonesta – New Orleans, LA

Enjoy timeless elegance and southern refinement at this genuine Bourbon Street establishment with its traditional gabled windows, French doors and wrought-iron lace balconies in the heart of the French Quarter

300 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, LA 70130


The lively French Quarter serves up an eclectic gumbo of activities — charming bistros, boutiques, antique shops and art galleries, historic sites, sensational live entertainment, and of course, celebrations that are world-famous.

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Jordan AxtNaLA Spring Conference Hotel Registrations
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Spring Conference Survey Results

Thank you to those of you that participated in the survey choosing the location for the spring conference. The options were Las Vegas and New Orleans. The results were close the entire time, but New Orleans took the lead!

Survey Results

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