February 20, 2018 — TracFone Wireless filed a letter to express concerns with the FCC’s recent proposals for the Lifeline Program, a program that seeks to provide essential communication services to low-income Americans for purposes such as education, health care, employment, child care, and emergencies. The Notice on Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), an initiative from the FCC’s November 2017 Open Meeting that included various Lifeline Program initiatives, such eliminating wireless resellers from providing Lifeline service. More recently, the FCC has postponed the launch of the program’s National Verifier, an initiative that is in line with the stated goals of the commission, seeking to strengthen the Lifeline Program and reduce potential waste, fraud, and abuse.
TracFone, on Elimination of Wireless Resellers (ETCs) in Lifeline Program
In the letter, TracFone applauds the commission’s efforts to strengthen the Lifeline Program, but warns of the consequences of eliminating wireless resellers from the Lifeline Program, as this would negatively affect the consumers that the program seeks to help. TracFone stated that, “proposing to exclude all non-facilities-based Lifeline providers (the “Facilities-Based Proposal”) from the program and reorienting its mission from one that addresses affordability to one that encourages infrastructure deployment, the Commission has chosen a blunt instrument that would deny more than 8 million households their preferred Lifeline services without meaningfully reducing the opportunities for waste and fraud. Indeed, in proposing to do away with consumer choice and competition brought about by resellers, the NPRM fails to make the case for how the remaining facilities-based monopolies resulting from such regulatory intervention will spur rural network buildout or otherwise benefit Lifeline customers, particularly since many facilities-based providers have reduced their Lifeline participation or sought to leave the program altogether in recent months.”
Read TracFone’s Letter to FCC
Postponing of Lifeline Eligibility Verifier
In addition to concerns on the elimination of wireless resellers, TracFone also asserted that the update to the National Verifier Plan includes processes that are unnecessarily inefficient, burdensome, and contradictory to the Federal Communications Commission’s stated goals for the National Verifier. The recent postponing of the National Verifier launch is creating concern that the FCC’s actions do not support it’s stated goals about strengthening the Lifeline Program eligibility verification processes. TracFone, Sprint, and other Telecommunication companies are in agreement that efforts are best focused on the National Verifier, prior to making any drastic changes to the program, which helps nearly 11 million low-income Americans access phone and internet services.
TracFone commented that the FCC’s proposal “…departs greatly from the light-touch regulatory approach favored by the current Administration, and represents a sweeping, unprecedented, and possibly illegal governmental intrusion into an otherwise healthy and competitive marketplace that lacks signs of widespread market failure. The Commission must reject its proposal that singles out resellers for their collective status, not for their individual behaviors, and that, if implemented, will forever undermine the utility of the Lifeline program for more than two out of every three existing Lifeline subscribers and render it inaccessible or impractical for still millions more.”
About the National Lifeline Association (NaLA)
The National Lifeline Association is the only industry trade group specifically focused on the Lifeline segment of telecommunications. We support the 4 essential components 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 our mission to “support providers, distributors, participants, and supporters of lifeline through education, cooperation, and advocacy.”