FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today began circulating a draft order and further notice of proposed rulemaking (FNPRM) to address waste, abuse, and fraud issues in Lifeline enrollment and reimbursement, as well as reversing a 2016 action that created a nationwide ETC (eligible telecommunications carrier) designation for Lifeline broadband providers (LBPs), restoring what the Pai-led FCC referred to in a 2017 notice of proposed rulemaking as “the traditional role of the states in approving participation of Lifeline-eligible providers.”
According to senior FCC officials who briefed reporters on the circulating item in a conference call this afternoon, the draft order would require ETCs to produce documentation demonstrating that a prospective Lifeline enrollee is a living person, if the verification process cannot verify that the person is living. This would move the verification and documentation ahead of enrollment, rather than relying on removing individuals after enrollment, as the FCC did in response to a report finding many individuals whom the Social Security Administration had recorded as deceased, the officials said. Such documentation could be a current driver’s license, one of them added.
The draft order would also prohibit compensating employees and sale agents involved in Lifeline enrollment with commissions that are based on the number of enrollments they perform. A study by the FCC’s Office of Inspector General found that such commissions could lead to improper enrollments, one of the officials said.
One of the officials noted that the improper payment rate is currently estimated at 18.5%.
The draft order would require ETC employees or sales agents who are involved in enrollment to register with the Universal Service Administrative Company before accessing USAC’s Lifeline systems and databases. One of the FCC officials said that while the last four digits of the Social Security numbers of the employees or sales is one way that identification could be accomplished, the item would leave some flexibility on the matter.
The draft order would require ETCs to collect eligibility documentation at the time of subscriber recertification if eligibility was previously verified through a state or federal database—such as enrollment in Medicaid — but such eligibility is no longer verifiable through a state or federal database.
The draft order would direct USAC to share information regarding suspicious activity with states to assist them in their oversight efforts.
Finally, the order would also take steps to improve identification of duplicate subscribers, such as an ETC’s enrolling an individual under multiple variations of their name; prevent Lifeline reimbursement payments to ETCs for fictitious persons; and improve identification of FCC rule violations. ETC audits would move to a risk-based approach, one of the officials said.
The draft order would not address the issue of establishing a “self-enforcing” budget cap for the Lifeline program, the issue of setting a mandatory minimum subscriber payment, or the issue of limiting Lifeline support to facilities-based providers, which were all proposed in the 2017 NPRM that raised many of the issues addressed in the draft order that began circulating today (TR Daily, Nov. 16, 2017).
The draft order would also not address a recent petition seeking to delay an increase in minimum Lifeline service standards scheduled to take effect Dec. 1, the FCC officials emphasized.
The draft FNPRM would seek input on program goals, program metrics, and additional ways to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in the program. —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
MainStory: FederalNews FCC UniversalServiceLifeline
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