FCC To Tackle Lifeline Modernization & Customer Privacy at March Open Meeting

The FCC has released a tentative agenda for its March 31 Open Meeting, and two items on the agenda will have ramifications for clients: Lifeline modernization and protecting the privacy of broadband customers.

Lifeline Modernization
The FCC will vote on an Order to make broadband more affordable for low-income Americans by allowing consumers to apply $9.25 per month in support to stand-alone broadband or for bundled voice and data plans. The FCC anticipates that this will encourage more providers to participate in Lifeline. The new Lifeline Order maintains the current $9.25 household subsidy for “fixed” voice service (wireline or fixed wireless), but it will include substantial changes to the program, many of which were outlined in a recently released Fact Sheet:

  • Provides support for fixed or mobile broadband, as well as phased-down support for mobile voice with unlimited talk through 2019 (mobile providers must provide voice and broadband service after 2019)
  • Continues to provide support for wireline voice-only service
  • Sets minimum standards for broadband service
  • Opens the program to broadband providers
  • Establishes a third-party National Eligibility Verifier to perform the annual subscriber eligibility verification process
  • Limits list of federal programs used to validate eligibility to those that support electronic validation, are most accountable, and best identify people needing support (SNAP, SSI, Medicaid, Veterans Pension, Tribal), along with income-based eligibility
  • Makes program data publicly available and understandable, including subscriber counts by provider and uniform disclosure of annual subscriber recertification data
  • Establishes a budget mechanism and sets a flexible budget of $2.25 billion annually and requires the Wireline Bureau to notify the FCC when spending reaches 90 percent of the budget
  • Calls for a mid-2019 review of the Lifeline program

JSI anticipates that many clients will be impacted by, or interested in, the forthcoming Lifeline Order. JSI will hold a webinar after the Order is released. In the meantime, if you have questions about Lifeline, please contact Lans Chase in our Georgia office at 770-569-2105, Dee Dee Longenecker in Texas at 512-338-0473, or Marty Kluh in the Maryland office at 301-459-7590.

Broadband Consumer Privacy
The FCC also announced that it is circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on measures to ensure broadband consumers have the tools they need to make informed choices about how and whether their data is used and shared by their broadband provider. The proposal, led by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, is built on three core principles: choice, transparency and security.  The Chairman believes that if adopted, the new privacy framework will empower consumers to protect their data and enforce the broadband provider’s responsibility to protect private customer data.

Specifically, the FCC is proposing to apply privacy rules to broadband service that are similar in many respects to Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI) rules that have been in place for voice service.  For example, the proposed rules would require broadband providers to take reasonable steps to safeguard customer information, including the use of an “opt out” process if broadband providers plan to use customer data to market other communications-related services or to share customer data with affiliates so that they can market such services.

The proposed rules also would require broadband providers to adopt risk management practices and many other measures to ensure the protection of customer information, such as training personnel, adopting strong customer authentication requirements, and making a senior manager responsible for data security.

JSI will assess the impact on small rural broadband providers once the NPRM has been released. At that time we can provide recommendations, as well as suggestions for advocacy efforts once the comment dates have been established.  For more information about the NPRM, contact John Kuykendall in Maryland at 301-459-7590, Dee Dee Longenecker in Texas at 512-338-0473, or Lans Chase in our Georgia office at 770-569-2105.

Source: JSI e-Lert