Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced Tuesday that the FCC would suspend and waive rules governing the Lifeline program, designed to help low-income Americans access telecommunications services, to enable continuity of connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As Americans across the country turn to online services to enable social distancing measures, the importance of access to affordable communications, especially for low-income households, has only increased,” said Pai. ” During times of crisis, maintaining connections to family and friends, medical professionals and educators, and your coworkers is imperative, and I don’t want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity.”
Upon the advice of federal and state governments, many Americans are spending more time in their own homes, and teleworking is becoming increasingly prevalent.
Under the changes, Lifeline recipients will not have to “demonstrate continued eligibility for the program” every 60 days. The FCC has also eased the burden on participating wireless carriers, waiving the requirement that they register with the Universal Service Administrative Company every 90 days.
The changes were packaged as part of the Keep America Connected Initiative, which began last week when Pai announced the commitment of telecommunications providers to not suspend service to those who are unable to pay their bills due to the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, providers will open their Wi-Fi hotspots installed nationwide to non-subscribers.
Lifeline has provided discounts on phone service for qualifying Americans since 1985. The program was expanded in 2016 to add broadband as an available discounted service, recognizing the changing nature of the connected world.