Sources: FCC Strikes Lifeline Compromise

Budget will be set at $2 billion

The FCC appears poised to come together on Lifeline reform in a compromise proposal that took even FCC staffers by surprise.

The key, said a source familiar with the compromise, is on a new budget--essentially a cap absent further commission action, on spending.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had proposed soft cap of $2.25 billion on the low-income Lifeline advanced telecommunications subsidy, which the FCC is migrating to broadband. That would have been an extra $750 million in spending, and even that could be exceeded if necessary.

The compromise is $2 billion, and no going over it unless the FCC commissioners vote to raise it.

The need for a hard budget for the fund was a key sticking point with the Republican members of the commission, with both Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly saying such a budget was necessary. Sources say that will earn both their votes for a 5-0 Lifeline reform item.

Related: FCC to Propose Expanding Video Description Requirements

The Republicans wanted the FCC to stick to the current $1.75 billion, so the compromise was right down the middle, plus the harder cap they had sought.

The commissioners were in agreement that the subsidy needed to be expanded to stand-alone broadband, that it was a good idea to get eligible telecommunications carriers out of the business of self-certifying.

The FCC early Thursday (March 31) pushed back the meeting start time from 10:30 a.m. to noon, then to 1:30, signaling something was afoot. But rather than the contentious meeting delays that characterized the Kevin Martin FCC chairmanship, this one appeared to be so statements could be adjusted to reflect the comity.