Frontier: FCC's 10/1 Mbps Lifeline proposal could lock out rural customers

Frontier supports the FCC's move to include broadband service as part of the Lifeline reform process, but it is concerned that the regulator's 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream speed requirement could prevent some rural customers from being able to use Lifeline for wireline Internet.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced in May 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.

In an FCC filing, Frontier said that while setting minimum standards is a not a bad idea, it "must not prevent or limit consumer choice."

What this means is that some rural customers might not be able to use Lifeline for wireline broadband if they reside in a market where a 10/1 Mbps service isn't supported by their local provider.

"Certain rural consumers, however, may not currently have access to 10 Mbps/1 Mbps fixed Internet speeds and would thus be prevented from choosing to use Lifeline for a fixed Internet service," Frontier said. "Even if higher speeds are available, a minimum speed standard may prevent a customer from opting for a lower speed plan that may better meet their budget."

Frontier added that a move by the FCC to establish different speeds for wireline and wireless services "discriminates against one technology or the other" and that the "consumer should be able to choose their preferred service."

During its participation in the Lifeline broadband pilot program, Frontier found that 6 Mbps speeds were what most subscribers wanted to purchase.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the price of broadband services is a key consideration amongst Lifeline participants.

"Cost to consumers has an effect on adoption and which plans they choose," Frontier said.

However, the FCC and Frontier also found that subscribers were not interested in taking digital literacy training classes even if they were offered additional service or a free computer.

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)

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