AT&T continues to push Lifeline proposal, wants FCC to include Internet services in program

In a new, lengthy filing with the FCC, AT&T (NYSE: T) reiterated its proposed changes to the agency's Lifeline program. Specifically, AT&T urged the FCC to offload most of the management functions of the program to the Universal Service Administrative Company, and to also allow Lifeline recipients to use the program to pay for their Internet access, whether that's wireless or wireline.

AT&T's filing detailed a meeting between a handful of company executives and various FCC officials, where AT&T said that it "strongly supports Lifeline reform that is designed to give eligible users greater autonomy and remove service providers from all program administration duties, including enrollment and eligibility verification, delivering benefits to Lifeline consumers, performing annual recertification and de-enrolling consumers from the program."

In a presentation on its changes, AT&T generally argued for fewer Lifeline restrictions and regulations. The carrier said that Lifeline customers should be able to quickly and easily move their services to different providers, and that they should be able to use their Lifeline money (roughly $9.25 per month) to pay for both voice calling services and broadband Internet access. The carrier argued that the FCC should use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program (which is basically food stamps) to determine whether users can obtain Lifeline money, rather than a separate eligibility process. The carrier also said network operators should be able to patriciate in the Lifeline program and provide services to Lifeline customers without heavy regulations.

"Lifeline reform efforts should focus on reinventing the program for the 21st Century rather than increasing regulation under the current program," AT&T said of its proposals in a separate, recent filing with the FCC.

The FCC's Lifeline program is designed to help poor people make and receive phone calls, but the program has been criticized as mismanaged and unwieldy. Indeed, earlier this year the Governmental Accountability Office, the independent investigative arm of Congress, issued a report that said the FCC should review the efficiency of the Lifeline program, according to The Hill. The GAO said data from telephone penetration rates suggests "the [Lifeline] program may be a rather inefficient and costly mechanism to increase telephone subscribers."

The FCC has been working to overhaul the program, and companies including TracFone, Verizon (NYSE: VZ), Time Warner Cable and others have been filing proposals with the agency for various tweaks to the program that they say would improve it.

Interestingly, AT&T noted that Lifeline funding has ranged from a high of approximately $2.2 billion (for 18.2 million households) in 2012 to $1.6 billion (for 12.4 million households) in 2014.

For more:
- see this AT&T filing

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