Lifeline Minimum Service Standards Set to Change Dec. 1

On July 25, 2019, the FCC announced its annual update to the Lifeline minimum service standards, which will become effective December 1, 2019. The new minimum service standards for fixed (home) service providers will be:

  • Fixed voice: No minimum service standard
  • Fixed broadband speed: Increases to 20/3 Mbps (Exception: If the service provider does not offer any generally available residential fixed broadband packages at the subscriber’s residence that meet the 20/3 Mbps standard, it can still receive support for the highest-performing generally available fixed broadband offering of at least 4 /1 Mbps.)
  • Fixed broadband usage: Increases from 250 GB to 1024 GB of usage per month

JSI further notes that on July 29, 2019, NTCA once again filed a Petition for Temporary Waiver of the updated minimum service speed standard applicable to fixed wireline broadband providers. NTCA asserts that, “Grant of the requested relief would enable low-income consumers to continue, on a voluntary basis, receiving the service they already subscribe to as of December 1, 2019 or move on a voluntary basis to the new higher speed standard of service if that choice fits within their budget.” This petition for waiver renews similar requests made by NTCA in 2017 and 2018, in which it requested that the FCC temporarily waive the strict application of the new minimum service speed standard and “grandfather” low-income customers subscribing to a service that did not meet the standard. The FCC never acted on those previous petitions.

NTCA’s current petition again attempts to solve the problem where a company does have broadband service meeting the minimum speed standard – in this case 20/3 – but is not a service the consumer wants to adopt. JSI agrees with NTCA that low-income customers should not be forced to take a higher tier service, most likely at a higher cost, if they are happy with the speed tier to which they currently subscribe.

The FCC issued a Public Notice on July 30, 2019, in which it seeks comment on NTCA’s petition for a waiver of the updated minimum service standards for fixed broadband speeds. Comments are due August 29, 2019, with reply comments due on September 13, 2019. JSI plans to file comments in support of NTCA’s Petition for Waiver. We encourage clients to share with us how the minimum service standard requirement impacts your company so that we can include that information in the comments. For JSI’s clients that would like to file individual or group comments, JSI can assist you in preparing and filing comments and/or reply comments.

Absent grant of the NTCA waiver petition, JSI emphasizes that in cases where a Lifeline-supported service will no longer meet the standard on December 1, affected customers must be notified at least one month in advance. The customer notification should inform the customer that their service no longer qualifies for Lifeline and offer the option to (1) switch to a Lifeline-supported plan, or (2) be de-enrolled from Lifeline and pay the full price for their current plan. Please contact JSI if you would like to discuss or need clarification as to when customer notification is required.

If you have any questions about the new minimum service standards or would like to file comments, please contact Lans Chase in JSI’s Georgia office at 770-569-2105 or Lisa McLaughlin in JSI’s Texas office at 512-338-0473.