On September 30th the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau issued a Public Notice describing the new Lifeline Broadband Provider (“LBP”) designation process, including details regarding what applicants should include in their LBP applications.
As we have previously stated, the FCC will offer a streamlined, 60-day LBP designation process for petitions that meet certain requirements, such as serving at least 1,000 non-Lifeline customers with voice and/or Broadband Internet Access Service (“BIAS”) service for the previous two years. The notice clarifies that the petitioner must still be serving 1,000 such customers at the time of the filing, although the service provided during that two-year time frame does not need to have met the new service requirements in order to receive funding. The Bureau also reiterated that it has wide discretion to remove the petition from streamlined processing if it requires additional time to review the petition.
Importantly, the Bureau also clarified that providers are not precluded from obtaining designation as an LBP in addition to holding an existing or seeking future designations as another type of ETC. However, if a provider obtains designation as a LBP in a geographic area in which that provider already holds another ETC designation, the provider’s LBP designation does not release the provider from any of its obligations under the non-LBP ETC designation. Therefore, it is important that providers review carefully the service territory sought and reasons for seeking an LBP designation in addition to any existing ETC designation.
Contents of LBP Application
Like the Lifeline ETC designation process, providers seeking designation as a LBP must meet the requirements in section 214(e) of the Communications Act and sections 54.201 and 54.202 of the FCC’s rules. The provider must:
- certify that it will comply with the service requirements applicable to the support that it receives, including any applicable minimum service requirements;
- demonstrate its ability (or the ability of its network provider) to remain functional in emergency situations;
- demonstrate that it will satisfy applicable consumer protection and service quality requirements;
- demonstrate that it is financially and technically capable of providing the Lifeline service, including the extent to which it plans to rely on Lifeline funding;
- describe the terms and conditions of the BIAS plans it will offer to Lifeline subscribers.
Lastly, the Bureau clarifies that providers seeking LBP designation should describe with particularity the areas in which they will offer Lifeline-discounted BIAS service, by identifying Census blocks, block groups or tracts, ZIP codes, or counties to be served.
The Public Notice also largely reiterates the service requirements established in the Lifeline Modernization Order for LBPs, but provides some helpful clarifications. For example, the Public Notice clarifies that LBPs must utilize the National Verifier to enroll Lifeline subscribers in any state where and when it has launched, but LBPs will remain responsible for verifying and confirming subscribers’ eligibility pursuant to the existing rules in states where the National Verifier has not launched. The Bureau also clarifies that bundled offerings do not meet the new requirements if they result in the consumer receiving less than the minimum service standard applicable to the supported service as a result of the customer’s usage of some other service included in the bundled offering. Therefore, providers cannot provide increased levels of voice minutes or text messages in lieu of the mandatory BIAS requirements if they receive funding for the broadband portion of the bundle.
Although the Public Notice states that the Bureau will not begin evaluating LBP applications until OMB approval of the revised information collection has been published in the Federal Register, the FCC announced OMB approval of the new Lifeline Rules earlier this morning.