August 02, 2014

FCC to increase oversight of phone subsidy plan

WASHINGTON (AP) – Government regulators want to increase oversight of the federal program that subsidizes telephone service for low-income Americans.

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously March 3 to study ways to bring more accountability to the $1.3 billion Lifeline/Link Up program. Lifeline/Link Up is one of four programs that make up the $8 billion Universal Service Fund, which was created to ensure that all Americans have access to a basic telephone line. The fund is supported by a surcharge on long-distance bills.

Among other things, the FCC will consider capping the size of Lifeline/Link Up. It will also explore creating a national database of users to validate eligibility and ensure that the program is only supporting one phone plan per household. In addition, the FCC wants to tap the program to subsidize high-speed Internet connections.

Last month, the agency voted to conduct a similar overhaul of the biggest Universal Service Fund program, the $4.3 billion High Cost fund, which pays phone companies that provide voice service in rural, sparsely populated places where phone lines are unprofitable.

The FCC also voted unanimously March 3 to launch a review of the federal rules that govern negotiations over the fees that cable, satellite and other subscription video services pay broadcasters to carry their signals in channel lineups. The commission's actions follow a series of high-profile standoffs that left some consumers without their local stations when negotiations reached an impasse and broadcasters pulled their signals from pay-TV services. The FCC wants to minimize future TV signal blackouts.

The FCC also voted March 3 to explore ways to expand the reach of communications services, including broadband and wireless access, on Native American tribal lands. And it voted to study ways to implement a new law intended to make modern technology – including smart phones and online calling services – accessible to people who are blind or deaf.

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