Because every American
should have access
to broadband Internet.

The Internet Innovation Alliance is a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that aim to ensure every American, regardless of race, income or geography, has access to the critical tool that is broadband Internet. The IIA seeks to promote public policies that support equal opportunity for universal broadband availability and adoption so that everyone, everywhere can seize the benefits of the Internet - from education to health care, employment to community building, civic engagement and beyond.

The Podium

Thursday, November 06

Lifeline White Paper

By IIA

Our new white paper, “Bringing the FCC’s Lifeline Program into the 21st Century,” calls for fundamental reform of the Federal Communications Commission’s existing Lifeline Program to provide access and enhanced consumer choice to 21st Century broadband services for the nation’s low-income consumers.

“The FCC’s Lifeline Program is a 20th Century government program aimed at spreading a 19th Century technology, voice service. It’s time to start a new conversation in Washington on how best to provide America’s low-income communities with greater access to 21st Century broadband communications services.”

— former Congressman, and Honorary Chairman of IIA, Rick Boucher

In our report, we highlight how this antiquated, cumbersome and complex program currently perpetuates a market imbalance that obligates only wireline telephone providers to participate and maintain the administrative systems and processes required to operate the program. 

We recommend streamlining the program to provide the flexibility necessary to broaden participation among various communications providers to help bring the benefits of competition to low-income consumers — more innovation, better service, lower prices—while also lowering administrative costs. One step toward attaining this goal is to transition the current program toward a voucher model, by providing eligible consumers with a “Lifeline Benefit Card” that empowers them to purchase a range of communications services, including broadband, wireline or wireless voice services.

Today, service providers determine the eligibility of consumers for the Lifeline subsidy. The white paper recommends that, given the economic incentives that service providers have to increase enrollment, eligibility determinations for Lifeline benefits and core program administration oversight should be performed by a governmental agency rather than by communications service providers.

Our report offers the following recommendations on how best to modernize and transition the Lifeline program so that it can help ensure next-generation broadband access for low-income consumers:

1. Bring the Lifeline Program into the 21st Century by making broadband a key part of the program’s rubric;

2. Empower consumers by providing the subsidy directly to eligible people instead of companies;

3. Level the playing field between service providers to broaden consumer choice and stimulate competition for their purchasing power;

4. Safeguard and simplify the program by taking administration away from companies that are not accountable to the American public, instead vesting that governmental responsibility with an appropriate government agency.

“Only five percent of U.S. consumers still rely solely on the antiquated, circuit-switched telephone network for their communications needs. This trend is reflected in the FCC’s Lifeline Program, with 80 percent of its dollars currently going to wireless carriers.

As consumers abandon their wireline telephones for modern broadband services, the Lifeline Program — adopted during the 1980s — should be modernized and upgraded to reflect the realities of the current IP-based world. Expanding the program to focus on broadband, and simplifying its administration to welcome participation by more service providers, will help millions more Americans access modern communications services.”

— former Congressman, and Honorary Chairman of IIA, Rick Boucher

Download “Bringing the FCC’s Lifeline Program into the 21st Century” (PDF)