Court Remands Lifeline Challenge Back to FCC - Multichannel

Court Remands Lifeline Challenge Back to FCC

Pai has signaled plans to eliminate feds from eligibility calls
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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has granted a request by the FCC that it remand the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners challenge to the FCC's Lifeline reform under FCC chairman Tom Wheeler back to the FCC, now helmed by Republican Ajit Pai, for further proceedings.

That is because Pai has signaled that the Wheeler reform of creating a national program for subsidy eligibility is being rolled back in favor of a return of state control over the process of authorizing participants. The regulators' association had challenged giving the feds such control.

"Eliminating the national designation procedure puts more ‘state cops on the beat’ and strengthens both complementary state Lifeline programs and the quality of service provided to customers, as well as deters fraud and abuse of the program,” NARUC said last month after Pai announced his plans.

RELATED: FCC's Pai to Eliminate Federal Eligibility Program Lifeline Subsidies

In outlining his plans, Pai had cited the suit, said that he was not going to defend it, and in fact would unwind it. "I am therefore instructing the Office of General Counsel to ask the D.C. Circuit to send this case back to the Commission for further consideration. And the FCC will soon begin a proceeding to eliminate the new federal designation process," he said.

The FCC asked and the court has now granted that request. A NARUC spokesperson said they were discussing the status of that suit at press time, but it is unlikely to go forward if Pai delivers on his promise.

Pai said by letting the states take the lead, "we will strengthen the Lifeline program and put the implementation of last year’s order on a solid legal footing. This will benefit all Americans, including those participating in the program.”

RELATED: Split FCC Votes for Lifeline Reform

A bitterly divided FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to reform the Lifeline subsidy a little over a year ago following the collapse of an agreement among Pai, fellow Republican Michael O'Rielly and Democrat Mignon Clyburn that would have capped the fund, something Chairman Tom Wheeler did not want to do--eventually Clyburn said she could not support the cap either.