The Internet Innovation Alliance has a new framework for updating what it calls the FCC's "antiquated, cumbersome and complex" Lifeline phone subsidy program, which hinges on expanding it to wired and wireless broadband--making cable and wireless companies eligible for the subsidy--and letting users determine which service and carrier to subsidize.
IIA members include AT&T, Alcatel-Lucent and Corning.
According to honorary IIA chairman Rick Boucher, former chair of the House Communications Subcommittee, IIA plans to file its proposal in various FCC dockets as the commission ponders how to update telecom subsidies for the broadband, digital world.
That includes not having service providers determine eligibility, but instead making that a governmental function, and having consumers direct their subsidy to the service of their choice. In a competitive market, Boucher said, consumers are in charge and they no longer want to passively receive a government-issue service.
The IIA framework comes down to the following:
1. "Bring the Lifeline Program into the 21st Century by making broadband a key part of the program’s rubric;
2." Empower consumers by providing the subsidy directly to eligible people instead of companies [a Lifeline benefit card they can use with different providers];
3." Level the playing field between service providers to broaden consumer choice and stimulate competition for their purchasing power;
4. "Safeguard and simplify the program by taking administration away from companies that are not accountable to the American public, instead vesting that governmental responsibility with an appropriate government agency."
“As consumers abandon their wireline telephones for modern broadband services, the Lifeline Program—adopted during the 1980s—should be modernized and upgraded to reflect the realities of the current IP-based world,” Boucher said. “Expanding the program to focus on broadband, and simplifying its administration to welcome participation by more service providers, will help millions more Americans access modern communications services.”
Boucher said Lifeline has been effective in bringing voice to low income users, and it is time to do the same for broadband. Boucher said he was confident the paper could jump start a dialog about modernizing the program, pointing to interest at both the FCC and in Congress.