Lifeline News

1.3 Million Veterans Lifeline Service Could be Affected by FCC Proposed Changes

The Washington Times published an op-ed regarding how Veterans Lifeline service could be affected by FCC-proposed changes. Lifeline service is offered through the Lifeline Program, which connects low-income Americans to affordable telephony and broadband services for the purposes of health care, education and employment. 

The op-ed echoes TracFoneSprint, AARP and other groups who have stood up against the FCC proposals, and reminds readers that

if the FCC approves these changes, millions of Americans — including hundreds of thousands of veterans — will be left without this most basic daily need: a phone.”

Changes Affect Up to 1.3 Million Veterans’ Lifeline Service

Approximately one tenth of Lifeline participants are U.S. Veterans. These individuals, many of whom are retired or disabled, rely on their Lifeline service to communicate with doctors, employers, and other support resources.  

The proposed FCC changes would ban Wireless Resellers serving over 70% of Lifeline participants, which include veterans among other retired and disabled Americans. Veterans can be a particularly vulnerable demographic when it comes to physical health, mental health, and employment. They are also at increased risk for homelessness and suicide. 


Read the Op-Ed: Sustaining a vital veterans program

More than 1 million veterans rely on the Lifeline program connecting low-income households to essential services like health care, job opportunities and public safety. Also relied upon by seniors, the disabled, and many other Americans, the Lifeline program, started under President Ronald Reagan, gives low-income families discounts on phone and Internet services.

Unfortunately, proposed changes from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) threaten to undermine this vital program and hurt those who depend on it most.

Click here to read the full article

 

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Lee Schafer1.3 Million Veterans Lifeline Service Could be Affected by FCC Proposed Changes
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NaLA’s 2017 FCC Proposal Appeal Lands in DC for Oral Argument

On October 25, 2018, oral argument was held before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in the National Lifeline Association’s appeal of the FCC’s December 2017 proposal to ban resellers from the Tribal Lifeline program and to limit the program to rural areas.

NaLA’s Case for Appealing the 2017 FCC Proposal

The representative for NaLA opened by addressing the failure of the Commission to consider the impact of its Tribal Facilities Requirement and Tribal Rural Limitation on the primary goals of the Tribal Lifeline program, which are affordability and increased subscribership. Additionally, he asserted that “[b]ecause the Commission failed to account for a lack of affordable service options or even alternative service providers for many Tribal Lifeline customers, it failed to consider important aspects of the problem before it.”

Tribal Counsel Weighs in on 2017 FCC Proposal

Counsel for the Tribes also presented their concerns, arguing that the Order’s Tribal Facilities Requirement undermined the FCC’s goal of spurring investment because it would result in fewer service providers offering service and fewer people having access to Lifeline service. Counsel for the Commission argued that the FCC was entitled to deference, but came under sharp questioning from the three judge panel. Judge Rogers commented that the agency had “no backup” for its assertion that facilities-based providers would step in to replace resellers if they were banned.

 

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Lee SchaferNaLA’s 2017 FCC Proposal Appeal Lands in DC for Oral Argument
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National Lifeline Association Chairman Issues Statement Regarding FCC Enforcement Action Against American Broadband

David B. Dorwart, Chairman of NaLA, issues a statement regarding the FCC allegations of Lifeline rule violations and Notice of Apparent Liability against American Broadband


The allegations of Lifeline rule violations, including agent fraud and carrier misconduct, included in today’s FCC Notice of Apparent Liability against American Broadband, if proven to be true require nothing short of our absolute condemnation. We understand that the FCC has a process which will allow American Broadband to defend itself against these very serious and disconcerting allegations.

NaLA Remains Committed to Program Integrity

In the meantime, NaLA and its stakeholder members will continue the good work they do every day in bringing the Lifeline program to eligible subscribers. NaLA and its wireless reseller carriers work hard every day to ensure that only eligible subscribers get Lifeline benefits and that only eligible subscribers retain them. Today’s news will serve as a reminder to all Lifeline stakeholders just how important it is to achieve and maintain compliance in every facet of the good work that we do in ensuring Lifeline eligible low-income Americans are able to access this benefit that ensures essential voice and broadband connectivity.

NaLA Press Release on FCC Enforcement Action

The official press release can be reviewed here.

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Jordan AxtNational Lifeline Association Chairman Issues Statement Regarding FCC Enforcement Action Against American Broadband
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NaLA Comments on FCC Connected Care Pilot Program Notice of Inquiry

The National Lifeline Association (NaLA) filed a response to a recent Notice of Inquiry (NOI) regarding the Connected Care Pilot Program, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) telehealth program that seeks to assist low-income Americans.

comments-fcc-connected-care-pilot-program-NOIFCC Promoting Telehealth for Low-Income Consumers

The Connected Care Pilot Program is part of an FCC telehealth initiative and would seek “to improve health outcomes among low-income Americans through the use of expanded access to telehealth services.” The $100 million FCC proposal for a Connected Care Pilot Program received unanimous approval in August 2018.

In the NOI, the FCC acknowledges an increasing reliance on broadband-enabled telehealth services when providing high quality health care. The pilot would improve healthcare for low-income consumers by bringing connected care resources to low-income Americans with a wide range of health challenges, including cancer treatment, pediatric heart disease, high risk pregnancies, stroke treatment, and diabetes management.

FCC Seeks Comment on Connected Care Pilot Program NOI

In response to the NOI, NaLA expressed concerns in a September 10, 2018 filing. As an organization that has long viewed Lifeline as a tool to increase access to healthcare for low-income consumers, NaLA supports the purpose of the Connected Care Pilot Program, but expressed two main concerns:

  1. Telehealth services provided by the program would not be offered to all low-income Americans who need them.  

    The NOI seeks comment on “limiting the participating health care providers’ use of the pilot program funding to Medicaid-eligible patients, as well as veterans who qualify based on income for cost-free health care benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).”

    NaLA believes strongly that this limitation would lead to many exclusions of the low-income demographic for whom the program was designed to serve.

     

  2. The Commission would restrict provider participation to “Facilities-based” ETCs (providers).

    This restriction would further limit accessibility for low-income consumers who are in need of telehealth services by limiting the number of providers. The NOI suggests that such an approach would be consistent with the Lifeline program, proposing “that participants should be facilities-based … given that one of the goals of the pilot is to increase broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas.”

    NaLA opposes this point, noting that nearly 70 percent of low-income consumers within the Lifeline program are served by non-facilities based ETCs (wireless resellers). Additionally, NaLA adds that resellers “have a unique expertise in locating, enrolling and serving the same communities that the Connected Care Pilot Program seeks to serve, i.e., low-income consumers and veterans”.

In conclusion, NaLA respectfully requested that the Commission design any Connected Care Pilot Program consistent with these comments to most effectively and efficiently meet the program goals.

View Full Response to the Connected Care Pilot Program NOI

 

Read NaLA’s September 10 Comments to the FCC Notice of Inquiry here.

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Lee SchaferNaLA Comments on FCC Connected Care Pilot Program Notice of Inquiry
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How the Lifeline Program Helps Sarah Victory Continue Her Journey in Being a Super Mom

“I am thankful enough to have an affordable phone service,”  44- year-old Sarah Victory from Coweta, Oklahoma says in a relieving tone. Sarah works from 3 pm to 11 pm as a Certified Nursing Assistant. She also takes care of her three children (one is her 3-year old autistic son)  and is the emotional support for her husband, who suffers from depression. Sarah happily says that at her workplace the patients label her “the best one” and it’s most likely due to her dedication at work and home. Being a family woman and the go-to-person can be overwhelming, but Sarah says that it’s her job as a mother and wife. Her day-to-day routine varies, but the one thing that is consistent is her consumer relationship with the Lifeline program.

With so many responsibilities, bills, and other family financial commitments, Sarah is happy that the Lifeline program is effective and efficient. Being enrolled in the Lifeline program has allowed Sarah to connect with her children, husband, and doctors. “Because I can’t afford normal service, being in the Lifeline program allows me to talk to my doctor and my child’s doctor,” she says. The convenience and affordability of her Lifeline phone service not only makes her life easy even when everything else is hectic, but it allows her to stay connected with the important aspects of her life. Because she has to keep a closer eye on her son’s health, being able to contact his doctor is important. If it were not for the Lifeline Program how else would Sarah keep up with her autistic son’s health? As a busy mother, wife, and employee, the victory is more than her last name; it’s in her Lifeline phone service.

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admin1How the Lifeline Program Helps Sarah Victory Continue Her Journey in Being a Super Mom
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NaLA Supports National Lifeline Awareness Week With Informational and Social Media Campaigns

NaLA Supports National Lifeline Awareness Week With Informational and Social Media Campaigns

Many eligible households who are not enrolled in the Lifeline program struggle to afford essential telephone service that allows them to reach emergency services, medical personnel, government services, schools, and potential employers. In fact, only 33% of those who are eligible for the Lifeline program are currently enrolled. Additionally, 46% of active Lifeline consumers are retired, disabled or unable to work, and rely on Lifeline for phone and broadband services every day. By raising awareness of the Lifeline program, NaLA seeks to educate those who may have been unaware of the availability of Lifeline and encourage those who are eligible to participate to enroll.

Now, more than ever, it is imperative to highlight the effect of Lifeline on the lives of low-income Americans. In 2017, the FCC proposed devastating changes to the Lifeline program which would significantly cut access to essential phone and broadband services for an estimated 8 million people, which is roughly 70% of Lifeline recipients currently enrolled in the program. The potential cutback of this program would have a profoundly negative impact not only on eligible seniors, the disabled and low-income consumers, but also the 28% of Lifeline consumers who are unemployed and actively looking for work.

“There is much work to be done when an estimated 67% of eligible consumers are not taking advantage of the Lifeline Program.”

“National Lifeline Awareness Week is important to NaLA because, at our core, we believe that every American should have access to essential communication services. There is much work to be done when an estimated 67% of eligible consumers are not taking advantage of the Lifeline Program,” says David B. Dorwart, Chairman of NaLA. “We are also excited to share the personal story of a current Lifeline consumer who expressed how profoundly Lifeline impacts her life. It is important for people to understand how the proposed FCC program changes could negatively impact vulnerable individuals,” he adds.

Because Lifeline affects millions of consumers every day, our service provider members and field agent members have partnered with us to generate informational and awareness campaigns in support of National Lifeline Awareness Week all across the country. Along with its service provider members, field agent members, and other advocates, NaLA continues to pursue changes that result in greater efficiency, accountability, and overall integrity in the Lifeline program. NaLA thoroughly believes in the importance of National Lifeline Awareness Week and applauds the organizations and regulatory bodies that support Lifeline and raise awareness during this week.

Read the original press release here.

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Stay Granted for FCC Tribal Lifeline Rules to Bar Wireless Resellers and Lower Subsidies for Tribal Consumers of Lifeline Program

The U.S. Court of Appeals granted National Lifeline Association (NaLA) and Tribal petitioners a stay of new FCC Tribal Lifeline rules that would have barred wireless resellers from providing Tribal Lifeline and would also limit the Tribal Lifeline program to rural Tribal areas.

The Court stated that the FCC’s plan does not consider the harm it can cause to Lifeline businesses and customers. It is estimated that 70% of eligible consumers receive their Lifeline service from wireless resellers. The Court added that these actions would “result in a major reduction, or outright elimination, of critical telecommunications services” for Lifeline consumers and “substantial, unrecoverable losses” for Lifeline providers. Many Tribal consumers do not have an alternate option to obtain Lifeline phone or internet services if a wireless reseller ban were to be implemented. In addition, the FCC “identified no evidence of fraud or misuse of funds in the aspects of the program at issue here,” the Court wrote.

The judges also rejected the FCC’s claim that reducing subsidies would cause carriers to build their own networks in Tribal areas. They said the Commission failed to show any historical evidence that reducing subsidies would lead to more infrastructure investment. This argument was the justification for the new FCC Tribal Lifeline Rules that would eliminate wireless resellers from providing services on Tribal lands. The judges stated that the record suggested just the opposite.

In reaching its decision, it appears the Court understood that wireless resellers play a critical role in connecting low income consumers to essential communications services through the Lifeline program. Disconnecting consumers causes a digital divide.

“NaLA is pleased that the Court heard and agreed with the arguments presented and that the Court took action so the case can be decided without Tribal Lifeline subscribers, or the companies that work to serve them, suffering irreparable harm,” said David B. Dorwart, Board Chairman of NaLA. “In reaching its decision, it appears the Court understood that wireless resellers play a critical role in connecting low income consumers to essential communications services through the Lifeline program. Disconnecting consumers causes a digital divide. It does not put them first, nor does it further the Lifeline program’s core goal of ensuring that our nation’s most vulnerable consumers stay connected by making service affordable. NaLA looks forward to continue working with all stakeholders to preserve and protect the integrity of the Lifeline program so we can strive to meet this important goal.”

As advocates for preserving Lifeline, NaLA is encouraged by the Court’s statement that, “Petitioners have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their arguments.” The decision to halt the FCC’s move to prevent wireless resellers and lower Lifeline subsidies for Tribal areas is a big win for low-income Tribal consumers.

Read the full court order here: United States Court of Appeals Case #18-1026 Document #1744949 Filed on 08/10/2018

Read the original press release here.

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Jordan AxtStay Granted for FCC Tribal Lifeline Rules to Bar Wireless Resellers and Lower Subsidies for Tribal Consumers of Lifeline Program
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FCC Lifeline Reform Detrimental to Lifeline Subscribers

On May 22, 2018, National Lifeline Association (NaLA)  met with legal advisors to Chairman Pai and Commissioners Carr, O’Rielly, and Rosenworcel to discuss proposed changes to the Lifeline program. NaLA representatives Kim Lehrman, Jose Cortes, Chuck Campbell, John Heitmann and Joshua Guyan raised concerns regarding the proposed ban on wireless resellers. The proposed FCC changes are contrary to the purpose of the Lifeline Program which is affordable service. NaLA representatives were open to a budget for the Lifeline Program within reason. But the main aim of the organization is to support the low-income consumers that rely on the Program and as such, they maintained that their commitment is to affordability and consumer choice.

Proposed Lifeline Reforms Threaten Service Affordability

Resellers are important to the Lifeline program. They support consumer choice and affordability. The proposed FCC changes will have a negative impact on the industry and the families that it supports. The proposal to remove wireless resellers from the Lifeline space would:

  • harm consumers by forcing more than 7 million (or roughly 70%) of all Lifeline subscribers to find a new Lifeline service provider
  • leave some low-income families without wireless service and with limited service options.
  • be detrimental to the program integrity and efforts to guard against waste, fraud and abuse
  • NOT bridge the digital divide by spurring additional facilities deployment or more affordable services.
  • upend the states’ role in designating ETCs, as well as the reliance interests of wireless resellers. 

As the preference and demand for mobile voice and broadband services has increased, Wireless resellers have willingly sought ETC designations and relieved landline providers of the obligation to provide Lifeline service. It is not clear why the FCC is taking such actions against a program that has been so helpful to low-income Americans. Among those it helps are seniors and veterans who may be retired, disabled, on fixed income, as well as other Americans who are looking for work.

NaLA Asks FCC to Reconsider Lifeline Reform Plans

NaLA proposes adopting conduct-based standards and agent registration to properly focus on bad actors rather than efforts that will harm consumers. “The FCC should freeze or roll-back the minimum service standards and voice support phase-out that threaten to deny consumers access to affordable choices that best meet their needs.”  The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) has also contributed a budget in support of NaLA’s initiatives in this matter.

About the National Lifeline Association

The National Lifeline Association is the only industry trade group specifically focused on the Lifeline segment of telecommunications. We support the 4 essential pieces of Lifeline: ETCs & Providers, Distributors, Lifeline Supporters & Participants, and Government & Regulatory Bodies. We are passionate about the continuity and advancement of the Lifeline program and we drive this vision through education, cooperation and advocacy.

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NARUC Discusses Lifeline NPRM’s Proposal

On May 18, 2018, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) met separately with Commissioner Carr’s chief of staff and Chairman Pai’s legal advisor. NARUC expressed their support for the Lifeline Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposal of respecting the state’s role in program administration regarding eliminating ETCs and suggesting cooperative federalism between the Commission and the states.

However, NARUC does not agree with the Lifeline NPRM proposal for eliminating non-facilities-based resellers. Lifeline NPRM said, “To advance our policy of focusing Lifeline support to encourage investment in voice- and broadband-capable networks, we propose limiting Lifeline support to broadband service provided over facilities-based broadband networks that also support voice service.” NARUC commented on Lifeline NPRM’s reasoning behind supporting facilities-based carriers because they feel it “might spur additional investment in infrastructure.”

NARUC’s stance is that non-facilities-based carriers should continue because, not only do they currently serve 75 percent of eligible users, they could also disrupt service to millions of eligible users.

 

 

 

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