Member 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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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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NaLA Files Comment on TracFone Emergency Petition Requesting National Verifier Delay

September 12, 2018 – The National Lifeline Association (NaLA) filed comments supporting the recent TracFone emergency petition requesting alterations to the Lifeline National Verifier by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), administrator of the Lifeline Program.

TracFone Emergency Petition Requests FCC Delay USAC National Verifier Launch

The emergency petition from TracFone urges the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay USAC from further implementation of the National Verifier.

TracFone has concerns that the National Verifier, which has already launched in six states, is not integrated to all of the necessary state databases that would allow it to effectively function in determining Lifeline eligibility.

The petition requests that USAC ensure, prior to launching the National Verifier in additional states, that the National Verifier access key databases (particularly the Medicaid Enrollment Databases) and also accept eligibility proof from select third parties.

TracFone reports that the requested alterations will improve the efficiency of the automated and manual eligibility processes, which ultimately support the National Verifier.

NaLA Files Comments Supporting TracFone Emergency Petition to Delay Lifeline National Verifier

NaLA recently filed comments echoing the TracFone petition concerns regarding the launch of the National Verifier.

While the support for the National Verifier has been consistently unanimous, the success of the National Verifier in confirming subscriber eligibility is based on participation in qualifying federal programs, particularly the Medicaid enrollment database.

Medicaid participants account for 29 percent of Lifeline enrollments and the USAC’s launch strategy has resulted in leaving some of the subscribers who need Lifeline the most — especially those enrolled in Medicaid and dependent on Lifeline services  — at risk for losing phone service, not just to connect to society but also to manage their care” – National Lifeline Association

USAC also refused to accept evidence of eligibility for the manual verification process through third-party sources such as Managed Care Organization (MCO). USAC not allowing proof of eligibility through MCO will interfere with the efforts to enroll eligible subscribers in the Lifeline program.

To provide an enrollment process that better serves eligible consumers, NaLA suggests, “directing USAC to accept proof of eligibility from MCOs […] will make the National Verifier more efficient and effective for USAC, consumers and service providers.”

Read NaLA’s Comments On TracFone’s Emergency Petition

NaLA Comments on TracFone Emergency Petition

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Lee SchaferNaLA Files Comment on TracFone Emergency Petition Requesting National Verifier Delay
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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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admin1NaLA Supports National Lifeline Awareness Week With Informational and Social Media Campaigns
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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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The National Lifeline Association Agent Certification Program Reaches New Milestone of 2,000 Sales Agents Trained and Certified in Lifeline Compliance

Today, the National Lifeline Association (NaLA) announced reaching a new milestone with the 2,000th Lifeline Agent receiving Lifeline compliance training and certification. The NaLA Agent Certification Program was created and launched by the National Lifeline Association in late April 2018. It provides Lifeline Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) with assurance that independent sales agents have been trained, tested, and certified in the rules and regulations of both Federal and State Lifeline programs.

The NaLA Agent Certification program also requires certified agents to retrain, retest, and recertify every 90 days. This ensures that agents regularly maintain knowledge of Lifeline, while also allowing NaLA to quickly disseminate, train, and test agents’ understanding of regulatory and compliance changes.

The NaLA Agent Certification Program provides independent sales agents with critical program information they need to be successful in the communities they serve and fully compliant with the rules and regulations of the State and Federal Lifeline programs. This program was outlined as an important 2018 initiative by the NaLA Board of Directors at the 2017 NaLA Annual Conference held in New Orleans, LA.

“We are especially excited to celebrate this impressive milestone only three months after launching this program,” said David B. Dorwart, Chairman of the National Lifeline Association. “The NaLA Agent Certification Program is critical to the advancement of the Lifeline program. It creates a national standard for agent training and assists ETCs in self-regulating field compliance.”

NaLA’s Agent Certification Program was created by some of the most respected compliance executives in the wireless Lifeline industry. NaLA’s vision is to help ETCs deploy well-trained, compliant, and informed field sales representatives to communities and help consumers who are in need of Lifeline program benefits. Most NaLA ETC members have voluntarily committed to require this certification process for all of their field sales agents as part of a larger commitment to thorough agent training and continuous self-regulation.

Regarding the Agent Certification Program, Kim Lehrman, President of enTouch Wireless and a NaLA Board Member, stated, “Adding an additional layer of certification to internal training programs for ETCs is exciting for our industry. The better agents are educated about Lifeline program fundamentals (i.e. consumer application and recertification) and regulatory compliance information, the more succinctly they can communicate how the program works to our prospects and consumers — ensuring a better consumer experience.”

About The National Lifeline Association:

The National Lifeline Association is a non-profit organization that provides a foundation of support for Lifeline participants, service providers, distributors, government and regulatory bodies, and other advocates of Lifeline.

NaLA members are passionate about supporting their vision, “In America, every person should have access to essential communication services.” With their leadership and direction, NaLA provides and promotes Lifeline education, collaboration, and advocacy across the U.S.

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admin1The National Lifeline Association Agent Certification Program Reaches New Milestone of 2,000 Sales Agents Trained and Certified in Lifeline Compliance
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