CenturyLink: 10/1 Mbps broadband requirement is too rigid for Lifeline customers

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) supports the FCC's efforts to realign the Lifeline program to focus on broadband, but the service provider wants to ensure that the reforms don't unintentionally leave some consumers behind.

In an FCC filing, CenturyLink said that it should have others besides the telcos handle verification while setting 10/1 Mbps requirement might not apply to some users that want to use other lower speed services or can't get such a connection.

"If the program is to be modernized to support broadband, program administration needs to meaningfully streamlined for all providers -- particularly by promptly shifting eligibility verification to a third party and by not requiring offering of all Lifeline options," CenturyLink said in a FCC filing. "The company also cautioned against making participation mandatory for any providers or applying a rigid 10/1 Mbps minimum service level for wireline broadband service, as it would limit options for consumers who may prefer less expensive options or who live in areas where only lower speeds are be currently available."

In May 2015, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced a number of new proposals that he says will restructure and modernize the regulator's $1.7 billion Lifeline voice service program by redirecting funds to extend broadband to lower income residents.

An additional Lifeline program proposal circulated earlier this month, revealed that Lifeline customers would be able to get financial support for either a mobile or wireline voice plan as well as broadband. Wireline broadband services would offer at least 10 Mbps and 150 GB per month, while mobile data plans would start at 500 MB per month of 3G data, increasing to 2 GB per month by the end of 2018.

Wheeler reiterated his support for modernizing the Lifeline program to support broadband services in a hearing today with the subcommittee on Communications and Technology United States House of Representatives.

"The proposed Order will recast Lifeline for the broadband era, allowing the program to support both fixed and mobile broadband service," Wheeler said. "It will establish minimum standards of service that Lifeline providers must deliver to receive funds. It will also improve Lifeline's management and design to get to the heart of the historic issues that have undermined this program's efficiency." 

Wheeler added that the proposed program will make it easier for other service providers to participate in the Lifeline program.

"It will streamline the requirements to become a Lifeline provider and take a hard look at the burdens we place on those providers in order to make it easier for carriers to participate in the Lifeline program," Wheeler said. "Too many of our country's leading service providers as well as many local, innovative, small providers do not provide Lifeline service.  The more service providers we can encourage to participate, the better that service will become."

CenturyLink isn't the only wireline provider concerned about the Lifeline reforms.

Frontier shared CenturyLink's assessment in an earlier filing that the regulator's 10/1 Mbps requirement could prevent some rural customers from being able to use Lifeline for wireline Internet. The service provider said that while setting minimum standards is a not a bad idea, it "must not prevent or limit consumer choice."

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)
- see Chairman Wheeler's speech

Related articles:
Lifeline broadband proposal gets mixed response from state and local leaders
FCC Chairman Wheeler unveils $1.7B plan to extend broadband to the poor
Frontier: FCC's 10/1 Mbps Lifeline proposal could lock out rural customers