Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission increased the minimum service standards for Lifeline recipients from 3 GB to 4.5 GB per month. While an increased data allowance is needed during this pandemic, for Lifeline subscribers this increase could also bring about an increase in their copayment for staying connected at the very time that their budgets are under strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This would jeopardize participation in the Lifeline program during a time when it is needed most.
Public Knowledge advocated for a pause in any increases in the minimum service standard until a study of the Lifeline marketplace is released next year. Among other benefits, this would help ensure recipients aren’t subjected to cost increases from providers as a result of the data allowance.
Additionally, the Commission extended COVID-19 waivers of certain Lifeline program rules until February 28, 2021, in order to provide relief for low-income households during the pandemic. The waiver will make it easier for low-income households to apply for and stay enrolled in the Lifeline program.
The following can be attributed to Jenna Leventoff, Senior Counsel at Public Knowledge:
“Yesterday, the FCC sent mixed messages to the Lifeline community, by simultaneously making it easier and harder for people to enroll and stay enrolled in the Lifeline program.
“Lifeline providers have already indicated they will charge Lifeline recipients an additional copay in order to offer 4.5 GB a month. Many low-income consumers can’t afford to pay a copay, or don’t have a bank account from which to pay a copay. This could cause people to unenroll from the program, during a time when they need it most. By signing off on the increase to 4.5 GB per month without additional study, the Commission has completely disregarded the needs of these consumers.
“At the same time, the FCC also extended vital waivers to program rules, to help keep people connected during the pandemic. These two actions are inconsistent.
“Lifeline serves as a pathway out of poverty for its recipients. It is the sole means of 21st century communications services for some low-income families — especially during this unprecedented pandemic. We hope that the FCC will reconsider the increase in minimum service standards after they have studied the Lifeline marketplace. We also hope the Commission will continue to waive Lifeline program rules until the pandemic has ended. Now is not the time to jeopardize connectivity.”
Members of the media may contact Communications Director Shiva Stella with inquiries, interview requests, or to join the Public Knowledge press list at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-249-9435.