On June 11, Senator Claire McCaskill, a long-time critic of the Lifeline program, sent a letter to FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, requesting that the FCC “reevaluate” the Lifeline program and determine whether that funding should instead be used to fund the ConnectED initiative recently announced by the President. That initiative seeks, among other goals, to connect 99% of the students in the U.S. to broadband “and high-speed wireless” in schools and libraries within five years through a modernization of the FCC’s E-rate program.
According to a recent FCC Public Notice, the E-rate program is the second largest USF program (behind only High Cost), and is budgeted to receive 28% more funding than Lifeline in the third quarter of 2013. Senator McCaskill’s proposal would nearly double the E-rate budget and eliminate the Lifeline program altogether. Senator McCaskill’s letter does not explain how the FCC would have the authority to eliminate the Lifeline program, which was created by Congress in a federal statute.
The FCC undertook a thorough evaluation of the Lifeline program just last year in a rulemaking that culminated in the Lifeline Reform Order, implementing widespread changes to the program. Some of these reforms are still being implemented, including the creation of a new database that will essentially eliminate duplicate Lifeline support to the same household.