NCAI letter of opposition to H.R. 4884, the Controlling the Unchecked and Reckless Ballooning of the Lifeline Act (CURB Lifeline Act) sent to Chairman Walden and Ranking Member Eshoo of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
Dear Chairman Walden and Ranking Member Eshoo:
On behalf of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the oldest, largest, and most representative organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments, I write to express our opposition to H.R. 4884 the Controlling the Unchecked and Reckless Ballooning of Lifeline Act of 2016 (CURB Lifeline Act). Passage of the CURB Lifeline Act would undermine recent efforts by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) to modernize and reform the Lifeline program to support voice and broadband services for low-income consumers. NCAI does not support capping the program at $1.5 billion annually, prohibiting subsidy use for devices, or prohibiting voice-only services.
At the FCC’s recent Open Meeting on March 31st the Commission adopted certain reforms to the Lifeline program. Among other things, the Commission capped the Lifeline program at $2.25 billion annually; authorized support for standalone voice or broadband services, or the option to bundle these services; requirements for mobile devices to have Wi-Fi and hotspot functionality; and built on 2012 reforms to cut waste, fraud, and abuse by creating a third party National Eligibility Verifier. These reforms, among others to be released in the final rulemaking, seek to modernize a program to support low-income consumers and especially those residing on tribal lands.
In addition to the Lifeline $9.25 base monthly phone bill discount, low-income residents of tribal lands are eligible for an enhanced tribal discount of up to an additional $25.00. This enhanced tribal Lifeline subsidy was adopted by the Commission in 2000 in recognition of the telecommunications and economic disparities prevalent throughout Indian Country. Coupled with funding from the Universal Service Fund (USF) High Cost program, Lifeline has been one of the most successful USF programs in incentivizing the build out and adoption of vital communications services on tribal lands.
According to the FCC’s recent 2016 Broadband Progress Report, tribal lands have the highest disparity nationwide in access to advanced telecommunications services. The Commission found that 41 percent of tribal lands overall lacked access to these vital services, and also further noted the disparity of connections on rural tribal lands with 68 percent of rural tribal areas lacking access. While the Lifeline program is not intended to provide advanced broadband speeds, it is important to recognize and safeguard the program to ensure low-income residents of tribal lands are able to access vital communications for healthcare, emergencies, social services, and use for job searching.
The CURB Lifeline Act would severely hamper the Lifeline program and its purpose to provide low-income consumers with vital communications services. Passage of the Act would inevitability, if not immediately, impact services offered to tribal lands and would undermine decades-long efforts to bridge the Digital Divide in Indian Country. We are hopeful that you will stand with Indian Country in opposing efforts to further restrict a program that has been so vital in providing communications service to tribal lands.
National Congress of American Indians
Att: NCAI Resolution #MSP-15-036, “Preserve the Universal Service Fund Lifeline & Link Up Programs for All Tribal Lands and All Native Peoples”
NCAI Resolution #TUL-13-061, “Request that the Federal Communications Commission Preserve and Protect the Tribal Lifeline and Link-Up Programs”