Energy & Commerce Democrats Urge FCC to Reverse Course on Lifeline Modernization Order

Washington, DC – Congressman Doyle (D-PA-14) announced today that he and 14 other members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee had sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai today urging him to reverse his action blocking implementation of the FCC’s Lifeline Modernization Order.
 
“In today’s world, telecommunications services are essential for every aspect of life,” Congressman Doyle said in discussing the letter to the FCC. “For a number of years, the federal Lifeline program has helped low-income Americans get access to essential telecommunications services. Lifeline originally covered land-line phone service, but as technology changed, Lifeline expanded to cover cell phones and, more recently, broadband. Chairman Pai’s recent decision to halt the implementation of the Lifeline Modernization Order shuts off access to broadband for thousands of low-income Americans across the country. Our letter urges Chairman Pai to reconsider this action.”
 
Congressman Doyle, who serves as the Democratic Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, was joined in signing the letter by Representatives Frank Pallone, Anna Eshoo, Doris Matsui, Yvette Clarke, Diana DeGette, Jan Schakowsky, Paul Tonko, John Sarbanes, Ben Ray Lujan, Jerry McNerney, Gene Green, Peter Welch, Tony Cárdenas, and Debbie Dingell – all members of the Energy and Commerce Committee. 
 
The complete text of the letter follows below.
 
February 15, 2017
 
The Honorable Ajit Pai
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th St SW
Washington, DC 20554
 
Dear Chairman Pai:
 
We write to urge you to reconsider your recent action to block the implementation of the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline Modernization Order that makes internet access more affordable to struggling Americans.  
 
As you know, broadband has become an essential part of modern life, providing a way for the unemployed to find jobs, for the sick to manage their healthcare, for families to connect with loved ones, for all citizens to engage with the government, and for student to access education.  But for many struggling families, the only way to get access to these critical services is through the Lifeline program. The Lifeline Broadband Provider (LBP) process was created last year to lessen barriers to entry for new Lifeline broadband providers so that low-income families can benefit from a more competitive Lifeline market brought about by the new participants. At least one provider impacted by your decision already has customers benefiting from this new process, giving them the tool to connect with the outside world.  But the FCC’s action is putting this tool out of reach—and for existing customers, it is pulling it out of their hands. 
 
The FCC’s order has prevented new entrants to the Lifeline market from immediately offering discounted service to the Americans who need it most.  Moreover, this total reversal of existing FCC rules was done by the Wireline Bureau under delegated authority, without a vote by the full Commission or proper notice to the parties affected.  Since the Order itself raises many novel questions of law and policy concerning the Commission’s efforts to combat waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program, issuing the order through the Bureau not only undermines the ability of affected carriers to seek timely review of the decision, it is also an abuse of the FCC’s process.
 
The reasons given for taking these actions do not seem to justify the extreme results.  While the order states that the revocations are necessary to prevent further waste, fraud, and abuse, the order does not explain how its actions will accomplish those goals. Furthermore, since the Order raised many novel policy questions regarding the Commission’s current efforts to safeguard the integrity of the Lifeline program, we find it troubling that the Chairman would insist on pursuing the same course he has so often criticized his predecessors for: an improper exercise of the FCC’s delegated authority and a refusal to permit the full Commission from voting on an item that poses new questions of law and policy.  
 
We always welcome any efforts to make such an important program more efficient and accountable.  But these efforts do not need to come at the expense of the consumers who could benefit from it.  We therefore urge you to immediately reinstate the LBP designations already made and to preserve the ability for new carriers to efficiently and responsibly enter the Lifeline market nationally.  Moving forward, we welcome the opportunity to continue working with to strengthen, not dismantle, this important social safety net program.
 
Sincerely,
 
 
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