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In Bridging the Digital Divide for Low-Income Consumers: Fourth Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Memorandum Opinion and Order, the FCC makes changes to target enhanced Tribal Lifeline and Link Up support to rural Tribal areas, eliminates the benefit port freeze, and makes clarifications to the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order.
February 15, 2018: The clarifications concerning the application of Lifeline support to the End User Common Line charge, and concerning Lifeline-supported broadband service, and the changes concerning the document retention requirements for the National Verifier will be effective on February 15, 2018, 30 days after the Fourth Report and Order was published in the Federal Register.
March 19, 2018: Changes to benefit port freeze (section 54.411 of the Lifeline Program Rules) will be effective on March 19, 2018, 60 days after the Fourth Report and Order was published in the Federal Register.
August 1, 2018 (or later): Changes to enhanced Tribal support and Link Up will be effective on August 1, 2018, or 90 days after the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approves the new information collection requirements, which are subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA), whichever date is later.
The benefit port freeze rule, which went into effect with the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order, is eliminated. The benefit port freeze rule required Lifeline subscribers to remain with their Lifeline service provider for a minimum period (60 days for voice service and 12 months for broadband service).
The order includes several changes that will target the enhanced Tribal Lifeline discount of an additional $25 per month to residents of rural Tribal areas receiving service from facilities-based service providers, and will also target Link Up to residents of rural Tribal areas.
The enhanced Lifeline discount and Link Up will only be available to residents of federally-recognized Tribal lands that are rural. Rural is defined as all areas that are not "an urbanized area or urban cluster area with a population equal or greater to 25,000" (this is the same definition of "urban" used in the 2014 E-rate Modernization Order). Enhanced support and Link Up will no longer be available to subscribers that live in more densely populated Tribal lands (such as Tulsa, OK, Reno, NV, etc.) that do not qualify as rural areas.
Lifeline service providers will be required to independently verify and document subscribers' rural Tribal residency using USAC's map of rural Tribal lands before seeking reimbursement for enhanced support or Link Up.
USAC will develop a tool that will allow service providers to determine whether a subscriber's address qualifies for enhanced support and Link Up, according to the new definition. The map will rely on sources including:
The map and shapefile will be available at least sixty (60) days before the effective date of the Order's rule changes for enhanced Lifeline support and Link Up on Tribal lands, and will be integrated into both NLAD and the National Verifier.
The enhanced Lifeline discount will only be available from facilities-based providers, including:
An ETC's use of tariffed and un-tariffed special access services, resold services offered pursuant to 251(b) and (c), commercially available resold services or unbundled network elements (UNEs) is not considered a facilities-based service. If the ETC offers service using its own, as well as others' facilities on rural Tribal lands, it may only receive enhanced support for the customers its serves using its own last-mile facilities.
ETCs must send written notice to customers who receive enhanced Tribal support, but will no longer be eligible as a result of this order, within 30 days after the announcement of the OMB's PRA approval. The notice must:
Other changes and clarifications in the Order include:
The Lifeline Program team is here to help you every step of the way. Contact us with your questions or comments.