February 16, 2017

Udall, Fischer Introduce Legislation to Reform FCC Lifeline Program

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) today introduced the Preserving State Commission (PSC) Oversight Act. The bill would reinforce existing law and ensure that states have primary authority to determine which carriers participate in the FCC universal service Lifeline program. The Lifeline program provides phone and broadband service to Americans who cannot otherwise afford it.

"States are best-qualified to determine which carriers should participate in this critical FCC program. In Nebraska, our public service commission has a fair, open, and transparent process to meet the needs of families that are reliant on Lifeline. Through the PSC Oversight Act, Congress can empower states to lead on these decisions and ensure these families receive the phone and broadband service they need,"said Fischer.

"Access to broadband is a necessity in this day and age, but many New Mexicans - particularly those in rural areas- don't have access to broadband to stay connected with their communities, families, and emergency services. Since Ronald Reagan was president, Lifeline has been an essential component of FCC efforts to provide rural and low-income Americans affordable access to modern telecommunications services. I was pleased when the FCC expanded Lifeline to include broadband, but we need this bill to return the role of state utility commissions in determining Lifeline eligibility. State utility commissions are key to policing against fraud and harmonizing federal and state initiatives that will help us close the digital divide," said Udall.

"We applaud Senator Fischer for her efforts to preserve states' rights over the designation and oversight of Lifeline providers. State commissions serve as a valued resource in deterring waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program," said Nebraska Public Service Commissioner Tim Schram.

The PSC Oversight Act would:

· Reinforce the states' statutory authority to decide which carriers can participate in the Lifeline program.
· Ensure that the carriers who offer service within the state are not engaging in waste, fraud, and abuse.
· Direct the FCC to eliminate the regulation adopted in an April 2016 order. This regulation is inconsistent with a provision in the Communications Act, which says that primary authority to designate companies to participate in the Lifeline program lies with the states.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

In June 2016, Senator Fischer, along with nine other senators and fifteen U.S. representatives, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler raising concerns with FCC actions on the Lifeline program. Among these was a concern about FCC regulation preempting state authority on carrier decisions.

Click here to read the text of the PSC Oversight Act.