The proposed FCC changes to Tribal Lifeline were outlined by Chairman Pai in a recent release of the November 16 Public Meeting Agenda. The Agenda outlines the Chairman’s intentions for the Enhanced Tribal Funds that support bridging the digital divide on the Tribal lands in Oklahoma and Nevada.
FCC Proposes Limitations on Tribal Land Subsidies in Oklahoma and Nevada
The reduction of waste, fraud, and abuse of within the Lifeline program has been a frequent topic of discussion for the FCC under Chairman Pai. The announcement of a proposal for ‘serious reform’ of the program is focused on the limitation of the additional Tribal subsidies that still exist in states like Oklahoma and Nevada. These FCC changes to Tribal Lifeline will negatively impact low-income residents living in tribal areas.
Initially a program for increasing communications for rural, low-income Americans, the Lifeline Program has evolved to better assist under-served Americans. As seen by the FCC’s efforts to include broadband in the minimum service standard, it is increasingly realized that efforts to “bridge” the digital divide is no longer solely a matter of geography.
Reason for FCC Changes to Tribal Lifeline
Currently, designated Tribal Lands receive additional federal subsidies for bridging that digital divide. But even though the minimum standards of service continue to increase to build that bridge, he subsidy for non-tribal areas has remained unchanged at $9.25, while the subsidy for Tribal Lands has been reduced in some areas through revocation of the previous “Tribal” designation.
In a report released last June revealing the findings of a three-year investigation conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that identified areas of fraud, waste, and abuse within the program, and recommendations were given to the FCC to increase Federal safeguards. The GAO’s report did not identify the subsidies to Tribal areas as a source of concern for waste within the Program, however, initiatives such as the National Verifier and other various reform implementations have already begun or taken place, which address and improve many of the issues revealed but the GAO’s findings. In response to the report, Democrat, Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, added that “much of GAO’s investigation took place before the FCC adopted its latest reforms.”
The Lifeline Program has experienced much-needed reform in recent years to combat issues of waste, fraud, and abuse within the Lifeline Program; to this, Pallone pointed out that “As an Energy & Commerce Democratic Staff Report found last year, the FCC has already reined in a billion dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse that was allowed under Bush-era changes to the program.”
The FCC has been diligent to address issues within the Lifeline Program that compromise its integrity. There is some speculation Pai’s proposal regarding Tribal subsidies.
Opposition to Pai’s Proposal for FCC Changes to Tribal Lifeline
The opposition to Pai’s proposal are concerned about the removal of the added subsidies for Tribal Americans.
Pallone expressed his concern over the FCC proposed Lifeline changes from the current Chairman that will negatively affect those living on Tribal lands, adding that “Struggling families across the country depend on this program, this proposal would rip the phones from their hands […] This is another unfortunate example of the FCC trying to avoid congressional oversight when it chooses to act against the people it is sworn to help.”
Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss of The Benton Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting communication in the public interest, added comment in a statement about the proposal, that “Pai is gutting the only Universal Service Fund program that directly benefits consumers instead of carriers. His changes will mean fewer low-income households are served by fewer competitive options.
“At the very least, we hope that the FCC will take the time to do an economic analysis around the impact of the FCC changes to Tribal Lifeline. Many, many Lifeline recipients are U.S. veterans who fought for our flag. Chairman Pai appears to be waiving the white flag of surrender for their connected future.”