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2017 Fourth Report and Order

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.

Effective Dates

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.

Eliminates Benefit Port Freeze

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).

Targets Enhanced Tribal Support and Link Up to Rural Areas; Facilities-Based Providers

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.

Definition of Rural, Tribal Lands

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.

Verifying Subscribers’ Eligibility for Tribal Support

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.

Map of Tribal Lands Eligible for Enhanced Support

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:

  • U.S. Census Bureau’s American Indians and Alaska Natives Map (federally-recognized areas only)
  • Map of Hawaiian Home Lands (maintained by the DHHL – Department of Hawaiian Home Lands)
  • Oklahoma Historical Map, as amended to include the Cherokee Outlet
  • Alaska Native regions established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
  • Any land approved as Tribal for the purposes of the Lifeline Program by the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy or Wireline Competition Bureau
  • U.S. Census Bureau Urbanized Areas and Urban Clusters

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.

Targeting Enhanced Support to Facilities-Based Providers

The enhanced Lifeline discount will only be available from facilities-based providers, including:

  • Fixed or mobile wireless facilities-based Lifeline service providers on Tribal lands with wireless network facilities covering all or a portion of the provider’s service area on Tribal lands
    • For enhanced Lifeline support, a mobile wireless provider must hold usage rights under a spectrum license or long-term spectrum leasing arrangement along with wireless network facilities that can be used to provide wireless voice and broadband services
    • Fixed wireless providers must provision or equip a broadband wireless channel to the end-user premises over licensed or unlicensed spectrum
  • Facilities-based fixed broadband or voice telephony service provided through the eligible telecommunications carrier’s (ETC) ownership or a long-term lease of last-mile wireline loop facilities capable of providing Lifeline service to all or a portion of the ETC’s service area on Tribal lands
    • For wireline providers, a “long-term lease” is an indefeasible right of use (IRU) of 10 years or more over the last-mile facility

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.

Notify Customers of Discontinued Enhanced Support

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:

  • Inform impacted customers they will not receive the enhanced Tribal Lifeline discount beginning August 1, 2018, or 90 days after the announcement of PRA approval, which ever date is later
  • Inform impacted customers that if they currently receive service from a non-facilities-based provider, they have the option to switch to a facilities-based Lifeline provider and continue receiving their enhanced Tribal Lifeline discount
  • Detail the ETC’s offerings for Lifeline subscribers who are not eligible for enhanced support

Other Changes and Clarifications

Other changes and clarifications in the Order include:

  • Clarification that the rule requiring ETCs to apply Lifeline support to waive End User Common Line charges or equivalent charges for Lifeline subscribers only applies to subscribers receiving Lifeline-supported standalone voice telephony service, or a bundled offering where the support is applied to the voice telephony component of the bundle
  • The National Verifier will not provide copies of subscriber certification forms to service providers, and Lifeline service providers will not be required to retain eligibility documentation for subscribers who are deemed eligible by the National Verifier
  • Clarifications about Lifeline-supported broadband service:
    • Wi-Fi delivered broadband Internet access service offerings like “premium Wi-Fi” that the customer cannot access at their residence do not qualify for Lifeline support as fixed broadband service offerings
    • Broadband internet access delivered via Wi-Fi is not eligible for reimbursement as mobile broadband
    • Lifeline-supported mobile broadband service must be provided on a network using at least 3G mobile technology
    • To qualify as Lifeline-supported fixed broadband service, the customer must be able to access the service at their residential address

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