As part of its ongoing strategy to provide fast Internet to every home in America, the FCC made an addendum to the Lifeline service that covers Internet access.
Following the change, users eligible for Lifeline can use it to help pay for either mobile or Internet service, or for a bundle package containing both. Not only will Lifeline help to cover the cost of the Internet service, but the FCC plans to work with ISPs to ensure that the Internet service provided to Lifeline users is up to a minimum performance level.
"Universal access to affordable communications is a bedrock principle on which the FCC has stood since its creation in 1934. For more than 30 years, the Lifeline program has been one important way the agency sought to achieve this worthy goal by helping low-income consumers afford phone service. Today, we take the next major step in fostering the FCC’s commitment to universal service by modernizing Lifeline to support broadband and refocusing the program to meet the 21st century’s communications challenges," said FCC Chairman Wheeler.
The Internet provided to Lifeline users must be capable of 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds, at least. The minimum data usage allowance for these home Internet services is currently set at 150 GB, but the FCC intends to work to extend that over time.
The FCC is setting minimum standards for mobile broadband services covered by Lifeline. They need to provide at least 500 MB of 3G data per month by December 1, 2016. This amount will grow steadily over the next few years to 1 GB by December 1, 2017, and then up to 2 GB per month toward the end of 2018.
The amount of talk time on these plans will grow similarly over that same time period, starting at 500 minute per month in December 1, 2016, to 750 minutes per month on December 1, 2017, and then finally up to 1,000 minutes by December 1, 2018. To help push industry adoption, the FCC plans to scale down Lifeline support for standalone voice plans over the next few years until it finally ends support on December 1, 2021.
"To minimize impact on ratepayers, the Order establishes, for the first time, a Lifeline budget mechanism. It sets budget of $2.25 billion, indexed to inflation. This is a ceiling sufficient to allow for increased participation generated by support for broadband service. The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau will be required to notify the Commission when spending reaches 90 percent of the budget and to prepare an analysis of the causes of spending growth, followed by full Commission action within 6 months. This mechanism will ensure that the Commission has the notice and comprehensive information it needs to determine the reasons for growth in the program and to promptly make any necessary changes to the program to keep in on sound financial footing," said Wheeler.
Although the changes made to Lifeline gives users more options for attaining Internet service, the FCC did not increase the current maximum $9.25 monthly household subsidy limit. This was necessary to keep the cost of the program from becoming a burden on tax payers. As a result, the financial aid from Lifeline will likely be sufficient to help with only a single service or bundle package.