Posted by: Joan Marsh on November 23, 2016 at 2:34 pm
AT&T has long supported universal access to broadband for all Americans. And through our Access from AT&T low cost broadband program, we are making broadband a reality for low-income consumers for $10 a month or less. We believe that, at this time, Access from AT&T is a better way for AT&T to address broadband adoption than by participating in the new Lifeline broadband program. So, today, we are notifying the FCC that we are “opting-in” to the forbearance granted in the Commission’s 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order.
AT&T has consistently supported including broadband in the Lifeline program. And we still do. Broadband is unquestionably the service that must be universally available to all Americans. But the structure and administration of the Lifeline program itself needed major modernization before it could be relied upon as an agent of change. Our support for comprehensive reform of the federal Lifeline program included proposals on consumer empowerment and eliminating the inefficient service provider role in administration of the Lifeline program. Recognizing this, the FCC adopted important process reforms at the same time that it updated the program to cover broadband. Chief among these was the decision to take service providers out of the role of determining eligibility and administering other program rules by establishing a new National Eligibility Verifier, which will be run by the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC).
The problem is, while the new Lifeline broadband requirements for service providers take effect in a little over a week, the National Eligibility Verifier will not be fully implemented until 2019. In the interim, service providers are left carrying the same administrative load and compliance risks they had before the reform. AT&T wireline currently has less than 3% of the voice Lifeline market. Accepting the forbearance means we still have the option to offer Lifeline discounts on broadband. But it makes little sense to spend resources on implementation of soon-to-be-replaced administrative rules for a new service when we are already offering low-income consumers a better deal through our Access from AT&T program.
Through Access from AT&T, consumers who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can get 10 Mbps or 5 Mbps wireline broadband for just $10 a month – SNAP, btw, is one of the most common programs used by consumers to qualify for Lifeline. If these speeds are not available, customers can purchase 3 Mbps service for just $5 a month. Under the new Lifeline broadband rules, 10 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream (10/1) wireline broadband is the standard service speed eligible for a discount, while any service below 4 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream (4/1) is ineligible. Lifeline consumers purchasing 10/1 service at, for example, the FCC’s Urban Rate Benchmark would pay about $60 a month after the $9.25 Lifeline discount. Consumers living in areas without 4/1 service get no discount at all under the new Lifeline rules. But they could get broadband for just $5 a month through Access from AT&T. These are the types of rates that will help encourage consumers to adopt broadband.
By opting in to forbearance today, AT&T will not offer a Lifeline discount on our broadband products at this time except where we deploy broadband as part of a high-cost funded public interest commitment. Again, opting in to forbearance will still allow us to offer Lifeline-supported broadband in the future, should we choose to do so. We will continue to assess our options as the current Lifeline program reforms are implemented and further updates are adopted. In the meantime, we encourage low-income consumers in the 21 states where we offer wireline broadband service to check out our Access from AT&T program at www.att.com/access.