At a thrice delayed FCC meeting yesterday, the FCC voted on a 3-2 basis to reform the Lifeline program by providing support for stand-alone broadband service (mobile or fixed) as well as bundled voice and data service packages. The adopted order is similar to the proposal announced earlier this month, see our blog FCC to Reboot Lifeline to Include Broadband Services dated 3/8/16, but has different minimum standards and a longer transition for the elimination of support for stand-alone mobile voice services. Additional details were also released.
In a second vote, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to establish privacy guidelines for broadband Internet access service providers. The proposed rules are intended to give broadband customers the tools they need to make informed decisions about how their information is used by their ISPs and whether and for what purposes their ISPs may share their customers’ information with third parties. The proposal is similar to the one announced earlier, but more details are now available.
The Order will allow Lifeline support to be used for stand-alone mobile or fixed broadband Internet access service, as well as bundles including fixed or mobile voice and broadband. It maintains the current $9.25 monthly household subsidy.
For fixed services, the Order sets minimum monthly usage allowances at 150 GB at a speed of 10 Mbps downloads/1 Mbps uploads.
For mobile services, minimum broadband standards will be phased in over five years starting at 500 MB per month of 3G data by Dec. 1, 2016, 1 GB by Dec. 1, 2017, and increasing to 2 GB per month by the end of 2018. Instead of the previously announced unlimited minutes standard, mobile voice will be required to provide 500 min/mo. beginning on Dec. 1, 2016, with increases to 750 min/mo. on Dec. 1, 2017, and 1000 min/mo. on Dec. 1, 2018. The phase-in will be reviewed through a staff report by June 30, 2021.
Support for stand-alone voice service will phase-down over the next 5 years with the subsidy decreasing to $7.25 on Dec. 1, 2019, $5.25 on Dec. 1, 2020, with no support by Dec. 1, 2021 (except where there is only one Lifeline provider). Voice will remain eligible for full support if part of a voice/data bundle.
Lifeline providers will be required to make Wi-Fi enabled devices and hotspot functionality available. The extent of these requirements was not specified.
To encourage participation by broadband providers and thereby increase availability and consumer choice, the Order provides streamlined, nationwide entry to the Lifeline program for so-called Lifeline Broadband Providers. This is an additional, centralized option for those providers who seek a one-stop-shop lifeline broadband designation. States will still be able to have their own Lifeline subsidies and providers will still need to get permission from the state in order to receive that subsidy.
The Order also establishes a National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier, a neutral third party that will take over the responsibility for determining subscriber eligibility. This will significantly reduce the burden on Lifeline providers, who are currently required to make this determination.
The Order also “refines” the list of programs that may be used to validate Lifeline eligibility to include only those that support electronic validation, are most accountable, and best identify people needing support. Eligible programs now include SNAP, SSI, Medicaid, Veterans Pension, HUD Federal Public Housing Assistance, Tribal, along with income-based eligibility.
Finally, the Order sets a budget for the program of $2.25 billion, indexed to inflation. The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau will be required to notify the full Commission when spending reaches 90% of the budget and prepare an analysis of the causes of spending growth, with recommendations for further action.
As reported previously, see our blog FCC’s Wheeler Reveals Plan For Broadband Privacy dated 3/11/16, the NPRM proposes a three-tiered frame work for customer approval for the use and disclosure of customer proprietary information, similar to that in place for voice services.
- Without consent, providers would be allowed to use and disclose customer information necessary to deliver broadband services and establish a business relationship (e.g., customer’s name, address, IP address) and to market additional broadband offerings in the same category of services, to which the customer already subscribes, e.g. to market higher speeds and lower rates for the type of broadband services already purchased.
- With opt-out consent, providers could use customer information or share such information with affiliates providing communications-related services in order to market communications-related services to subscribers.
- Opt-in consent would be needed for all other uses and sharing of customer information.
The NPRM seeks comment on alternatives to this frame work for providing customers with choice over how their proprietary information is used and shared with their ISP.
In addition, the NPRM proposes:
- Transparency requirements that require ISPs to provide customers with clear, conspicuous and persistent notice about what information they collect, use and share with third parties, and how customers can change their privacy preferences;
- Data security requirements, including customer authentication requirements; designation of a senior manager responsible for data security; and assuming take responsibility for use and protection of customer information when shared with third parties.
- Data breach notification requirements to encourage ISPs to protect the confidentiality of customer data, and to give consumers and law enforcement notice of failures to protect such information.
The NPRM also seeks comment on: (1) whether and how to address the collection, retention, and disposal of customer data; (2) whether there are certain broadband provider practices that should be prohibited or to which heightened notice and choice requirements should apply, including deep packet inspection, financial inducement practices, and persistent tracking technologies; and (3) other issues related to broadband privacy such as dispute resolution and preemption. Or, as Commissioner Rosenworcel said, in part: “[t]his rulemaking asks questions—lots and lots of questions. By my quick count, there are more than 500 of them. We ask questions about notice and how to ensure broadband providers have transparent policies. We ask questions about what requires consumer opt-in and what is better suited for opt-out. We ask about what to do to ensure data is secure and ask what recourse consumers deserve when it is compromised.”
The FCC emphasized that the NPRM is limited to broadband service providers; it does not apply to the privacy practices of web sites and other “edge services” over which the Federal Trade Commission has authority. It also does not include other services of a broadband provider, such as the operation of a social media website, or issues such as government surveillance, encryption or law enforcement.