FCC Revokes Decision Allowing Companies to Provide Low-Income Families With Subsidized Broadband

Staff Writer

Nine companies will no longer be able to participate in a federal program offering subsidized broadband internet to low-income Americans.

The Federal Communications Commission revoked the designations of the companies that had been approved as broadband providers for the program, known as Lifeline. The decision limits the companies’ ability to provide subsidized broadband access for families, including students, who rely on home internet access to complete research and homework assignments, among other tasks.

Lifeline provides a $9.25 credit to qualifying low-income households that subscribers can apply toward communications services. Last year the FCC allowed the program, which has covered phone service since its launch in 1985, to be used for broadband services. That decision was made under the direction of former Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat appointed by President Obama, who expanded the services covered by the credit to include stand-alone broadband service.

Under the direction of new Republican Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC rescinded that provision. Pai referred to the agency’s approval of the nine broadband providers under Wheeler as “midnight regulations.”

Of the nine providers, only one company had already begun providing broadband service before Friday’s decision. Households receiving broadband from that company, Boomerang, have the option to transfer their service credit to another Lifeline provider, the FCC said.

Pai was named as chairman of the FCC last month by President Trump. His decision put the nine companies’ applications on hold, the FCC said, until the agency considers additional measures to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in the program. The FCC was able to reverse these regulations due to a rule that allows the commission to reverse any order within 30 days of its issuance.

Kajeet, a company that partners with schools and districts to offer home internet access to students, was one of the organizations offering broadband through the Lifeline program. As part of an effort the company called Education Lifeline, Kajeet would have provided targeted broadband services to qualifying households with K-12 students.  Through Education Lifeline, Kajeet would provide students with a mobile hotspot with 4G LTE connectivity, filtered for educational use.

The service exceeds the FCC’s 10 Mbps minimum requirement for connectivity speed through the Lifeline program, at no additional cost. The company also planned to partner with local schools and districts to advertise the Lifeline program and identify and enroll students.

Those types of partnerships with schools and districts were what the FCC envisioned when it first allowed Lifeline for broadband access last year. A major concern for the FCC was the “homework gap,” the lack of access to faster internet access in low-income households many education advocacy organizations have said prevents students from completing assignments.

Kajeet CEO and co-founder Daniel Neal remains hopefulthat the FCC will eventually approve the company as a designated Lifeline broadband provider.

“School has, in part, gone online,” he said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to partner to find more tools in the collective toolkit to make more homework broadband available to kids.”

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