FCC's Pai Rescinds Lifeline Eligibilities

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FCC rescinds participation of 9 companies providing internet for poorer Americans
Author

07 February, 2017

Friday's decision came amid a series of other items that stymied the FCC's progress under former chairman Tom Wheeler, who stepped down at the end of former President Barack Obama's term-leaving behind a legacy of digital rights victories and paving the way for a Republican attack on internet equality. The internet policy and advocacy group Public Knowledge (which is partly funded by broadband providers) yesterday said in a statement that the decision "will likely result in needy families losing access to the critical connectivity they use to communicate with loved ones, look for employment [and] complete homework assignments".

"These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward", he said in a statement.

The nine companies directly affected by the new FCC ruling are Spot On, Boomerang Wireless, KonaTel, FreedomPop, AR Designs, Kajeet, Liberty, Northland Cable, and Wabash Independent Network.

Kajeet, Inc. was one of the companies originally granted permission to provide service through the program.

The Lifeline program provides low-income registered households with a $9.25-a-month credit, which can then be used to buy home internet service.

An alternative "moderate, bipartisan deal" developed between Clyburn and fellow Republican Commissioners Pai and Michael O'Rielly failed.

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"There was a zero-rating report that the chairman wanted to make disappear because he didn't agree with it", said an FCC official who spoke to MeriTalk on the condition of anonymity.

Clayburn was critical of this decision as well, saying "By eliminating the designations of nine entities to provide Lifeline broadband service, the Bureau has substantially undermined businesses who had begun relying on those designations". "So in any way limiting the Lifeline program, at this moment in time, exacerbates the digital divide". "It is clear that net neutrality is public enemy number one for Chairman Pai", Democratic US Senator Edward Markey said on Friday. Net neutrality rules imposed by the FCC in 2015 require broadband providers to treat all data equally and bar service providers from slowing consumer access to web content.

Mobile broadband company Kajeet works with over 300 school districts in 41 states and Washington D.C.to provide students with internet if they don't have it at home.

Accordingly, the FCC officials plan to reconsider the participation of the said companies into the program to consider measures to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in the program. "It doesn't address it in any positive way". One such restriction could be a strict cap on the program's budget, which is indirectly funded through fees in the bills of telephone customers.

Pai wrote in a blog post published February 2 that he wants to bridge the digital divide during his chairmanship.


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