Merkley, Senators Push Back on FCC Proposal to Cut Phone and Broadband Service from Struggling Americans

Merkley, Senators Push Back on FCC Proposal to Cut Phone and Broadband Service from Struggling Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, along with Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), today called on Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai to drop the agency’s recent proposal to cut phone and broadband service from struggling Americans who might not otherwise have access to basic phone and internet services.

The FCC’s Lifeline program current serves more than 12 million Americans, including at least 6.5 million who access internet service through the program. The FCC’s proposal would cut services from approximately 70% of those Americans by cutting their wireless providers out of the program.

“It is your obligation to the American public, as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to improve the Lifeline program and ensure that more Americans can afford access, and have means of access, to broadband and phone service,” the Senators wrote. “Your proposal accomplishes the exact opposite—it takes resources out of the hands of the most vulnerable Americans.”

They continued, “The Lifeline Program is essential for millions of Americans who rely on subsidized internet access to find jobs, schedule doctor’s appointments, complete their school assignments, interface with the government, and remain connected in a digital economy. The program helps Americans—including disproportionate numbers of families with children, veterans and people of color—survive.”

The Senators asked Pai to answer a series of questions about the proposal before the FCC holds a final vote, specifically:

1. The December 1, 2017, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) provides no evidence, analysis, or data to support its assumption that the FCCs proposed changes to Lifeline will spur facilities-based broadband deployment and additional affordable services for low-income families. Provide any specific data, analysis, academic studies, economic reports, etc. that you relied on to support this assumption. Explain why the NPRM included no evidence or data to support this assumption.

2. What is the FCC’s plan for the millions of Americans that would lose service due to your actions to cut the Lifeline program?

3. How many Americans in total, broken down by state, would lose their current service provider under your proposal? How many Americans would be left without any provider offering Lifeline service?

4. How will you ensure the integrity of the comment record is intact, and that it will be taken into your decision-making process?

5. How does your proposal help to increase the already terrible connectivity situation in Puerto Rico after its devastation by recent hurricanes?

6. How does your proposal ensure connectivity/affect availability of Lifeline for the following groups (please provide current Lifeline participation statistics for each, where available):

a)      Tribal members

b)      Rural Americans

c)      Low-income Americans

d)      Veterans

e)      Elderly populations

The full text of the letter follows below.

 

Dear Chairman Pai,

We write to express our opposition to your proposal to drastically cut the critical Lifeline program that has successfully provided phone and internet services to individuals who might otherwise not be able to access them. We ask that you reconsider your plan to deprive critical Lifeline support from 8 million otherwise eligible Americans.

It is your obligation to the American public, as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to improve the Lifeline program and ensure that more Americans can afford access, and have means of access, to broadband and phone service. Your proposal accomplishes the exact opposite – it takes resources out of the hands of the most vulnerable Americans.

The Lifeline Program is essential for millions of Americans who rely on subsidized internet access to find jobs, schedule doctor’s appointments, complete their school assignments, interface with the government, and remain connected in a digital economy. The program helps Americans—including disproportionate numbers of families with children, veterans and people of color—survive.

The majority of Lifeline’s recipients, at least 6.5 million Americans, use the program to receive internet service. From an economic standpoint, it is unclear why the FCC would spend billions of dollars to expand access to broadband while at the same time make Lifeline less accessible to those who need it most. Your proposal impacts over 70 percent of current Lifeline-recipient households by eliminating their wireless providers from the program, leaving less affordable and fewer Lifeline options, while making it more difficult for the companies trying to serve Lifeline customers. Instead of cutting the program, we should ensure Lifeline reaches more Americans in need of access to communication services.

The last thing we should be doing is rolling back the policies that have brought connectivity to millions of Americans. We are requesting responses to the following, before the Commission conducts a vote on the future of Lifeline:

  1. The December 1, 2017, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) provides no evidence, analysis, or data to support its assumption that the FCC's proposed changes to Lifeline will spur facilities-based broadband deployment and additional affordable services for low-income families. Provide any specific data, analysis, academic studies, economic reports, etc. that you relied on to support this assumption. Explain why the NPRM included no evidence or data to support this assumption. 
  2. What is the FCC’s plan for the millions of Americans that would lose service due to your actions to cut the Lifeline program.
  3. How many Americans in total, broken down by state, would lose their current service provider under your proposal? How many Americans would be left without any provider offering Lifeline service?
  4. How will you ensure the integrity of the comment record is intact, and that it will be taken into your decision-making process?
  5. How does your proposal help to increase the already terrible connectivity situation in Puerto Rico after its devastation by recent hurricanes?
  6. How does your proposal ensure connectivity/affect availability of Lifeline for the following groups (please provide current Lifeline participation statistics for each, where available):

a)       Tribal members

b)      Rural Americans

c)      Low-income Americans

d)        Veterans

e)        Elderly populations

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,