FCC Cancels Recently Granted Lifeline Broadband Provider Licenses as Part of Larger Sweep of Wheeler-Era Decisions

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau recently granted nine Lifeline Broadband Provider (“LBP”) designations: four on December 1, 2016 and five more on January 18, 2017, as part of its effort launched last year by then-Chairman Wheeler to expand the provision of broadband services to the low income population.  The new LBP designation permits providers to submit one application to the FCC to serve any state, instead of the traditional, expensive and time-consuming approach of seeking individual state-by-state licenses, and also avoids the need for an FCC-approved “compliance plan” that had prevented many providers from offering broadband in new areas.

Fourteen days after the inauguration, that same Bureau has now revoked those decisions, and “return[ed]” those LBP petitions to pending, non-streamlined status.  The reasons given for the retraction include that the prior orders reflected a “too-simplistic evaluation of waste, fraud, and abuse concerns” in the Lifeline program, citing then-Commissioner (and now, Chairman) Pai’s Congressional testimony last summer and the recent enforcement action brought against Total Call Mobile.  Another reason given is that the providers that had sought to serve Tribal areas had not provided copies of their applications to affected Tribes, a requirement that the Bureau had not previously included in its description of how to apply for LBP status.
Revocation of the LBP licenses was announced last Friday along with the nullification of a wide swath of recent decisions made by FCC staff and Chairman Wheeler before the change in administration, including the retraction of a status report on the multi-year E-rate modernization efforts and the retraction of a Notice of Inquiry to consider changes to its spectrum policy to promote the deployment of 5G wireless services.
Long a champion of the Lifeline program, Commissioner Clyburn released a statement, saying that the cancellation of the Lifeline licenses “reverses course on providing more competition and consumer choice for Lifeline customers,” and was announced in a “Friday news dump” purposefully to minimize public attention to the retraction.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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