Lifeline

Step 1 Become an ETC

Please Note: We are currently updating the guidance on this page to reflect the rule changes in the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order. In the meantime, please visit the 2016 Lifeline Order page for relevant information.

To participate in the Lifeline Program, wireline and wireless telephone companies must be designated as eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) by their state regulatory commissions or, in some cases, by the FCC. After being delegated, ETCs must meet all program requirements.

Receive ETC Designation

States have the primary responsibility for designating telecommunications providers within their jurisdiction as ETCs. However, in cases where an ETC is not within a state's jurisdiction, it must apply to the FCC for ETC designation. Carriers should contact their state utility regulator to determine how to initiate the ETC designation process in their state.

Non-State ETC Designation

In some instances, a carrier on non-Tribal lands is not under any state's jurisdiction. In this case, the carrier must then apply to the FCC for ETC designation. Likewise, carriers on Tribal lands are not under state jurisdiction and must also apply directly to the FCC for ETC designation. Read below for specific directions on applying to the FCC:

  • Non-State ETC Designation – Non-Tribal Lands
    A carrier seeking ETC designation on non-Tribal lands must first consult with its state utility regulator to see if the carrier falls within the state's ETC jurisdiction. If not, the carrier may petition the FCC for designation, providing an affirmative statement from the state utility regulator to that effect. The petition must reference CC Docket 96-45. The FCC will resolve all designation requests for non-Tribal lands within six months of the date filed.
  • Non-State ETC Designation – Tribal Lands
    A carrier seeking ETC designation on Tribal lands may directly petition the FCC for designation without first seeking designation from a state utility regulator. The carrier must explain that its assertion is not subject to a state regulator's jurisdiction and bears the burden of proving that assertion. To make its case, a carrier should provide fact-specific support and relevant case law, statutes, and treaties. In considering a carrier's petition, the FCC will consider any statements and analyses the Tribal authority might provide regarding the carrier's request for designation and the state regulator's exercise of jurisdiction.
The FCC's Designation Process

In some cases, the FCC has jurisdiction to designate ETCs. When a wireline or wireless telephone company files a petition directly with the FCC, it must provide copies of its petition to the affected state utility regulator at the same time. The FCC will release a public notice establishing a pleading cycle for comments on the petition. Based on the evidence in the record, the FCC will first make a jurisdictional determination. If the FCC determines that the state regulator lacks jurisdiction, it will decide the merits of the request within six months of the jurisdictional decision. If the company fails to meet its burden of proof that it is not subject to the state regulator's jurisdiction, the FCC will dismiss the request and direct the company to seek ETC designation from its state utility regulator.

In 2005, the FCC adopted new requirements for ETCs (Report and Order FCC 05-46, released March 17, 2005) that are designated by the FCC, including new reporting requirements. An ETC that is designated by the FCC must:

  • Provide a five-year plan showing how Lifeline Program universal service support will be used to improve its coverage, service quality, or capacity in each wire center it seeks designation;
  • Demonstrate its ability to remain functional in emergency situations;
  • Demonstrate that it will satisfy consumer protection and service quality standards;
  • Offer local usage plans comparable to those offered by the incumbent carrier in the areas for which it seeks designation; and
  • Acknowledge that it may be required to provide equal access if all other ETCs in the designated service area relinquish their designations.

In this Order, the FCC also encouraged state commissions to adopt similar requirements. Check with your state commission to see if there is a proceeding under way or whether the commission has adopted similar requirements. See Section C of the FCC's rules for more information on ETC designation by the FCC.