TR Daily Bureau Waives Lifeline Rule in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic
Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Bureau Waives Lifeline Rule in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic

Acting on its own motion, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau today temporarily waived for 60 days the requirements for recertification and reverification of Lifeline subscriber eligibility, as well as requirements affecting enrollment representatives working on behalf of Lifeline service providers.

“We find that, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and community efforts to slow its spread, requiring Lifeline subscribers to respond to recertification or reverification efforts over the next 60 days would be an unreasonable burden on low-income households. Because we recognize the importance of connectivity for all Americans during this pandemic, we do not believe that the public interest would be served by de-enrolling Lifeline subscribers who are unable to complete the recertification process or reverification process over the next 60 days. We will continue to monitor the situation to determine whether any additional waiver of these rules and deadlines is needed beyond the 60-day waiver period and will otherwise direct USAC [Universal Service Administrative Co.] to promptly send or re-send recertification and reverification notices, as needed, to subscribers impacted by the waiver at the end of the 60-day waiver period,” the bureau said in an order adopted today in WC docket 11-42.

“We also waive for 60 days from its scheduled effective date of March 26, 2020, section 54.406(a) of the Commission’s rules, which states that Lifeline providers must require all enrollment representatives to register with USAC, via USAC’s Representative Accountability Database, before processing transactions in USAC’s Lifeline systems. During the coronavirus pandemic, we believe that all communications service providers, including Lifeline providers, must prioritize helping their subscribers with getting connected and staying connected to voice and broadband services. To that end, we will reduce the burdens that Lifeline providers will face over the next 60 days by allowing additional time before all enrollment representatives are required to register with USAC, so these representatives can instead focus their efforts on assisting customers. At the expiration of the waiver period on May 25, 2020, all enrollment representatives will be required to register with USAC pursuant to section 54.406(a) of the Commission’s rules unless otherwise notified by the Bureau,” it added.

The bureau warned, however, “We are committed to guarding against waste, fraud, and abuse in the Universal Service Fund (USF) programs. Although we grant the limited waivers described herein, service providers remain otherwise subject to audits and investigations to determine compliance with Lifeline program rules and requirements. We will require USAC to recover funds that we discover were not used properly through its normal processes. We emphasize that we retain the discretion to evaluate the uses of monies disbursed through the USF programs and to determine on a case-by-case basis that waste, fraud, or abuse of program funds occurred and that recovery is warranted.”

In a press release, the FCC described the action as “part of the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Initiative to ensure that consumers stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled a Keep Americans Connected Pledge on Friday for telephone and broadband service providers aimed at ensuring Americans don’t lose broadband or telephone connectivity “as the country experiences serious disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak” (TR Daily, March 13). The Commission has launched a Keep Americans Connected page on its website, listing a range of actions with that same aim.

In a statement on the bureau’s Lifeline action, Chairman Pai said, “As Americans across the country turn to online services to enable social distancing measures, the importance of access to affordable communications, especially for low-income households, has only increased. During times of crisis, maintaining connections to family and friends, medical professionals and educators, and your coworkers is imperative, and I don’t want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity. That’s why I recently announced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge to address the challenges that many Americans, particularly low-income Americans, will face in the coming months.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

MainStory: FederalNews FCC UniversalServiceLifeline PublicSafety

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