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ACA: Fundamental Lifeline Reforms Needed As Broadband Becomes A Supported Service

Trade Group's Proposals Will Help Ensure Low-Income Consumers Have A Choice Of Service Providers

PITTSBURGH, October 1, 2015 -  The American Cable Association called on the Federal Communications Commission to make major reforms to the Lifeline program - a view shared by a range of Lifeline service providers and other interested parties - as the agency moves to broaden the program to permit low-income consumers to subscribe to broadband service.

"The Lifeline program is riddled with structural flaws, which the FCC needs to correct," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said. "ACA is pleased with the high level of support for having the FCC undertake these fundamental reforms, which are designed to give low-income consumers real choice, prevent waste, fraud, and abuse, and ensure fiscal responsibility."

Among other things, Lifeline's shortcomings include a mandate that service providers determine end-user eligibility; an array of costly and burdensome administrative, reporting, and compliance requirements; and an overly restrictive process for service providers to participate in the program.

"Cable operators providing voice services have largely passed on participating in the current Lifeline program due to its flaws.  If the FCC wishes these operators, who also provide broadband service, to now participate and compete for eligible customers, adopting fundamental changes to the program is essential," Polka said.

ACA expressed its views in reply comments filed Sept. 29 with the FCC, which plans to update the voice-centric Lifeline program to include broadband service to ensure all Americans have access to broadband Internet technology with the goal of expanding educational, employment and commercial opportunity.

In those comments, ACA reiterated that wireline providers would have a greater incentive to participate - and low-income consumers would have greater choice and the Lifeline program would be more effective and efficient - if the FCC adopted all of the following measures:

§  Providers should be able to require pre-payment for services;

§  Support for broadband should cover both recurring and one-time costs;

§  Lifeline customers should be able to subscribe to any service offered, and the FCC should not impose any service requirements;

§  Eligibility verification should be handled by third parties and not service providers;

§  Lifeline customers should directly receive benefits; and

§  The Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) designation process should be eliminated or streamlined.

ACA's support for the utilization of third-party verification, for example, was a concept also broadly supported by others, including U.S. Telecom, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the Texas Public Utilities Commission, and Public Knowledge.

"ACA does not believe it has all the answers for correcting the program, but its fixes are crucial, especially to give low-income consumers real choice of valuable services by multiple providers, to reduce opportunities for waste, fraud, and abuse, and to address the lack of fiscal responsibility," Polka said.

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