The Regulatory Mix, TMI’s daily blog of regulatory activities, is a snapshot of PUC, FCC, legislative, and occasionally court issues that our regulatory monitoring team uncovers each day. Depending on their significance, some items may be the subject of a TMI Briefing.
In addition to its fact sheet on the Chairman’s proposed Lifeline program reforms (See our 3/8/16 Blog “FCC To Reboot Lifeline To Include Broadband Services.”), the FCC released a document summarizing existing and proposed protections against waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program. According to the release, annual Lifeline disbursements have decreased by over 30%, from approximately $2.2 billion in 2012 to $1.5 billion in 2015, due largely to the 2012 reforms to the Lifeline program.
Separately, Commissioner O’Rielly issued a statement in response to the circulation of the Chairman’s draft that reads, in part, as follows: “Hours after the Chairman launched his press campaign and multiple sources reported he had circulated this item, it has just landed in my inbox. I haven’t had a chance to review all 150 pages yet, but as usual, the “Fact Sheet” released this morning raises more questions than answers. It’s impossible to tell whether the “budget mechanism” is actually a budget in any real sense of the word. It is unclear what “Commission action” would take place when spending gets close to the amount specified – would the full Commission get a vote? And what is the rationale to justify increasing spending on this Universal Service program – but not others – by $750 million, an increase of 50%?” See Commissioner O’Reilly’s complete statement here. See the Regulatory Mix dated 2/26/16.
In response to the Court decision staying two of the FCC’s new inmate calling service rules (See the Regulatory Mix dated 3/7/16), Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn issued a statement clarifying that while the Court noted that although “stayed implementation of new, lower rate caps, and a related rule limiting fees for certain single call services, the Court otherwise declined to delay critical reforms including implementation of caps and restrictions on ancillary fees. Relief from these egregious fees will take effect on March 17 for prisons, and June 20 for jails. The stay does not disrupt the interim rates set by the Commission in 2013.” They went on to say that: “While we regret that relief from high inmate calling rates will be delayed for struggling families and their 2.7 million children trying to stay in touch with a loved one, we are gratified that costly and burdensome ancillary charges will come to an end. These fees can increase the cost to consumers of a call by nearly 40 percent, compounding the burden of rates that are too high. This is significant relief, particularly in combination with the 2013 rate caps, and will still provide significant and meaningful relief to consumers. Ultimately, we believe the court will uphold the new rates set by the Commission. We look forward to the day when we stop erecting barriers to communication and have a system where all rates and fees paid by friends and family to stay in touch with their loved ones in jail or prison will be just, fair, and reasonable.”
A statement by Commissioner Pai says that the court action was “no surprise.” He goes on to observe that: “This case captures well how the FCC in recent years has done business. Political expedience trumps everything else; the rule of law is ridiculed rather than respected; and bipartisan compromise is rejected in favor of a party-line vote. Thankfully, we can still count on the federal courts to rebuke an agency untethered to the rule of law. Rules and reason may yet triumph over raw power.” Read Commissioner Pai’s statement here.