Matsui Leads Letter Calling on FCC to Expand Flexibility for Internet Connectivity Support During the Pandemic

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WASHINGTON, D.C., June 17, 2020 | George Hatamiya (916-201-5412) | comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-6) sent a letter to Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), urging him to support expanded flexibility in the Lifeline program to help low-income consumers stay connected to voice and internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early June, the FCC provided new flexibility to allow some Lifeline service providers to voluntarily initiate service before a consumer's application paperwork has been finalized. However, this new Lifeline flexibility was limited to rural Tribal areas. While rural Tribal areas continue to experience a disproportionate and unacceptable lack of broadband access, the approach taken by the waiver could also provide needed connectivity in other areas suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Many newly unemployed Americans in urban areas also face barriers in completing or filing application paperwork due to closures or social distancing practices to slow the spread of COVID-19. Congresswoman Matsui is calling on the FCC to expand this flexibility waiver across the Lifeline program to support all struggling Americans.

Since 1985, the Lifeline program has provided a discount on phone and broadband service for qualifying low-income consumers to ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that a phone and internet access bring.

Congresswoman Matsui has been a long-time advocate for expanded broadband access for all communities and authored the first legislation to expand the Lifeline program to cover broadband access as well.  In light of the current pandemic and the hardship it has caused for Americans across the country, Congresswoman Matsui is once again advocating for expanded access to these services.

The full text of the letter is below and here:

Dear Chairman Pai,

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to necessitate immediate action from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure Americans experiencing economic hardship can maintain broadband and voice services. The FCC’s recent waiver to ease the burden for rural Tribal residents seeking support through the Lifeline program may help increase internet connectivity in underserved communities. However, more must be done to ensure Americans, irrespective of their location, receive the support they need to stay online. We write today to urge you to implement these waivers for all Lifeline applicants.

Staggering unemployment and financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is occurring across the country. While rural Tribal areas continue to experience a disproportionate and unacceptable lack of broadband access, as the FCC acknowledges, the approach taken by the waiver could also provide needed connectivity in other areas suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Urban consumers also face significant challenges during this public health crisis. Many cities and counties have instituted stay at home orders or implemented social distancing measures to limit the spread of the virus. These measures are needed to maintain public health but may prevent consumers from filing necessary application materials when attempting to enroll in the Lifeline program.

While the waiver recognizes the formidable barriers to connectivity on rural Tribal lands, the underlying approach of creating flexibility for carriers to connect consumers before necessary paperwork has been processed could be applied across the Lifeline program to support all struggling Americans. Expanding these waivers to the entirety of the Lifeline program could boost connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic without diluting their efficacy on rural Tribal lands.

The temporary waiver to allow Lifeline carriers to begin offering service to consumers while they finish the application process will provide new options for Americans seeking support. While the waiver does not compel carriers to participate in the new process, restricting the benefits of the waiver to consumers in rural Tribal lands only, using a restriction that has been previously vacated by the D.C. District Court of Appeals, would prevent carriers in other parts of the country willing to step up from offering expedited service to struggling consumers.

We appreciate your attention to this important issue and urge you to immediately expand the Lifeline program waiver issued on June 1, 2020 across the Lifeline program.

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