The Federal Communications Commission has thrown its own Lifeline Broadband program into complete disarray.
Lifeline Broadband, a program patterned after the very successful Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone program, was designed to bring inexpensive, subsidized internet to America’s neediest residents, and to simplify the process required of companies who wanted to provide that inexpensive internet access. Oddly enough, it has been decimated by the Federal Communications Commission — the very same governmental body that conceived it, introduced it, tested it, and approved it.
All we can say is, what a mess.
Here’s how the tech savvy website gizmodo.com described the confusion:
FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced that he would direct the agency to eliminate the federal approval process for broadband providers who want to provide service through the LifeLine program, which administers subsidies for phone and internet service. That means any new broadband provider that wants to participate in the program will need to get approval state-by-state, which experts say will likely be an incredibly long and burdensome process. To make matters a whole lot worse, according to an FCC spokesperson, no states even have an approval process in place for broadband-only providers.
The FCC initially proclaimed that its Lifeline Broadband program would make it faster, cheaper, and simpler for internet service providers to offer subsidized internet to the poor.
Think of it as one stop shopping. Instead of being forced go through the expensive, time-consuming process of applying to provide internet service fifty times in fifty states, the new Lifeline Broadband plan was “federalized,” meaning that one national approval would allow them to provide service anywhere.
The FCC received applications from 22 companies that wanted to provide inexpensive internet service for the poor. It quickly approved nine of them and said it was going to fast track the remaining applicants.
Then it slammed on the brakes.
In early February 2017 it announced that it was withdrawing those approvals to reconsider the program.
This, of course, was long after it had spent untold millions of dollars and several years testing and analyzing the concept to confirm which plan worked best. After it had confirmed the rules. After it had made requests for proposals from internet service providers. After those companies had spent more millions of dollars on technical studies, upgrades and legal fees.
Now they’ve thrown all these internet service providers yet another curve ball by telling them that the rules upon which they based their proposals are no longer valid.
Fifty lengthy, complex, expensive applications in fifty states instead of one. Fifty time-consuming, stressful hearings instead of one. Fifty different jurisdictions asking for their own sets of changes and revisions.
Let’s hear from gimodo.com again:
Right now, roughly 3.5 million Americans receive subsidized broadband through the program. Last year, under chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC issued an order that created a streamlined federal approval process for LifeLine broadband providers, meaning a provider could get a single federal approval to get subsidies for service in any state. That order also required LifeLine providers to include broadband service by 2021, and set minimum speeds. Nine providers had already been approved using the federal process, before Pai suspended those approvals earlier this year.
Proving that it has either a sense of humor or no shame, the FCC said these changes will “strengthen the Lifeline program and put the implementation of last year’s order on a solid legal footing.”
If you believe that nonsense, we have some swampland in Florida we’d like to sell you.
This crazy diversion will clearly cause lengthy delays as internet service providers are forced to go from state to state to state to get their applications approved. As if that weren’t problem enough, Gizmodo says, “…no state currently has a regulatory structure in place to approve LifeLine providers for broadband-only service, and an FCC spokesperson confirmed this.”
In other words, companies that had already been approved to provide inexpensive internet for the poor, but then got “unapproved,” can’t even reapply because there’s no one out there to whom they can reapply. As supermodel Heidi Klum ominously states on each episode of her Project Runway TV show, “One day you’re in. The next day you’re out.”
In the end, a program that was supposed to be up and running and helping America’s poor by now, may not be up and running for years.
As we said earlier, what a mess. What a horrible, horrible mess.