Radio News: FCC cuts off Lifeline for Native Americans

Jul 08, 2018 10:50 pm
Ars Technica reports that on July 5 the Federal Communications Commission announced it denied a petition to reverse a decision taking away a broadband subsidy from many Native Americans. The FCC voted 3-2 in November 2017 to make it more difficult for tribal residents to get a $25-per-month Lifeline subsidy that reduces the cost of Internet or phone service. Small wireless carriers and tribal organizations have also sued the FCC in the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit over the issue. "Petitioners have not shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims," the FCC said in its July 5 announcement. "The 2017 Lifeline Order contains a comprehensive explanation of the basis for the Commission's decision to limit enhanced Tribal support to rural Tribal areas, and to target such support to facilities-based providers." Americans with incomes at or near federal poverty guidelines can get the Lifeline subsidies, though the current Republican-led FCC is doing all it can to limit who receives the benefits. Sprint is the only mobile phone service carrier actively participating in the Lifeline program now, according to the petition. The FCC decision blocks small cell phone services users from receiving the benefits. "[A]pproximately two-thirds of eligible low-income consumers on Tribal lands have chosen non-facilities-based ETCs [eligible telecommunications carriers] as their Lifeline provider, demonstrating the overwhelming success of the model," the petition to the FCC said. "At the same time, facilities-based wireless carriers have retreated from the Lifeline program across the country, including in many states home to American Indian tribes like [petitioner] Crow Creek [in South Dakota]. In more than a dozen states, AT&T and Verizon relinquished their status as ETCs. AT&T and Verizon continue to apply for and receive permission to relinquish their ETC status in additional states, and stopped applying for ETC status in new states long ago." T-Mobile has "largely phased out Lifeline service, explaining that Lifeline was not a 'valuable or sustainable product for [its] base' of subscribers," the petition said. "Sprint is the only one that still participates meaningfully as a retail provider in the Lifeline program, but Sprint does not provide Lifeline service on Tribal lands." The changes will take effect after October 2018, depending on when they are approved by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.