For Immediate Release: June 2, 2015
Contact: Regina L. Davis, 202-898-9382, firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON—Commissioner Ronald A. Brisé, of the Florida Public Service Commission, presented testimony on Tuesday concerning accountability and financing of the federal Lifeline program and its proposed formal expansion to cover broadband internet access. Commissioner Brisé appeared before the United States Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation & the Internet on behalf of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
The Lifeline program, established in 1985, is a federal program that provides discounts for voice communications on monthly wireless or wired phone bills ($9.25 a month) to low-income households, with at least half of the States providing matching Lifeline funds. On May 28, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler put out a fact sheet on a proposal to expand the Lifeline program to broadband set for the FCC’s June 18 agenda meeting. Lifeline has long been a target of NARUC advocacy. Lifeline will be among the topics discussed at NARUC’s Summer Meetings this July in New York City, with FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O’Rielly participating to jointly discuss their competing proposals for reforming the program.
Brisé made three key points in his detailed testimony:
First, NARUC’s member commissions have proven time and again to be a crucial bulwark against fraud and abuse. Neither Congress nor the FCC should do anything to take these “State cops off the beat” or diminish their authority. Continued coordination is crucial. The explosive growth in the program in the past decade shows what happens when proper safeguards are not in place. Florida, like several others, implemented a real-time verification procedure before the FCC revised its rules. Florida also, like other States, stopped some abuse through revoking or, in some cases, not granting so-called “ETC designations.”
Second, it is time for policy makers to formally consider expanding the lifeline program to cover broadband. But that involves building a solid record and there are a myriad of issues that need examination. Which leads directly to the final point: The Joint Board process—established by Congress - should be used—again. It works. State experience—filtered through the Joint Board process, was the basis for the last set of changes the FCC made to its lifeline rules—changes that have clearly eliminated quite a bit of fraud and inefficiency in the federal program programs. Whether Congress or the FCC acts, the Joint Board process will improve any final action.
Although NARUC has not had an opportunity to formally address Chairman Wheelers’ May 28 proposal, Commissioner Brisé pointed out that it seems logical, as the fact sheet suggests, for the FCC to require providers to retain documentation of eligibility for a time that is “at least long enough to allow for effective oversight and audits of the carriers’ qualification procedures.” NARUC also fully recognizes the heavy lift facing the FCC to get a national eligibility database up and running. The process is complex and States are uniquely positioned to offer vital input to facilitate the process. The FCC needs a better record to act and a Joint Board would provide that record.
The Commissioner’s testimony also specifically praised the FCC Commissioners and numerous FCC staff by name for: (1) their past use of the Joint Board process, (2) their rapid implementation of the last Joint Board recommended decision to staunch fraud and abuse of the federal Lifeline program, and (3) their aggressive enforcement of those rules.
The complete testimony is available by clicking here.
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NARUC is a non-profit organization founded in 1889 whose members include the governmental agencies that are engaged in the regulation of utilities and carriers in the fifty States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. NARUC's member agencies regulate telecommunications, energy, and water utilities. NARUC represents the interests of State public utility commissions before the three branches of the Federal government.
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