Windstream says FCC Lifeline broadband provision should be technology neutral

Windstream said it supports the FCC's proposal to realign the Lifeline program by diverting more attention, but said that the rules should not favor one technology -- wireline or wireless -- over another.

Consumers have a number of fixed and mobile broadband options, all of which include various speeds and usage allowances. Lifeline program recipients can chose from a host of traditional providers like Windstream and larger incumbent telcos and wireless operators like AT&T (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S), and Verizon (NYSE: VZ).

In an FCC filing, Windstream said that any changes to the Lifeline program "should not exert outside influence on the market by imposing different minimum service standards for fixed versus mobile broadband that make low-income consumers more likely to subscribe to one or the other because of cost."

The telco said that the FCC should not enforce rules that would prevent recipients from using the Lifeline program to purchase a 4 Mbps wireline service, but instead let them buy a similar wireless service.

"If the Commission were to prohibit customers from using Lifeline subsidies toward a 4 Mbps fixed broadband product but permit them to use their subsidy toward a 3G mobile product that at most can provide 4 Mbps speed, the Lifeline program essentially would be pushing the customer toward choosing mobile over fixed broadband, assuming the prices are fairly comparable," Windstream said. "In addition to limiting customer choice, the Lifeline program would be favoring one technology over the other."

Another factor is minimum speeds.

If the FCC heeds the call from groups like the Communications Workers of America and others to implement a 10 Mbps minimum speed standard for Lifeline-eligible wireline broadband service, Windstream said the regulator "should impose a minimum standard of 4G -- which at times can provide speeds around 10 Mbps -- for Lifeline eligible mobile broadband service."

The service provider has also been an advocate of the FCC's proposal to permit low-income consumers to use the current subsidy toward a standalone broadband service. Today, Windstream offers its own standalone service called "Solo" in all of the states where it operates except Nebraska, whose PUC would not approve it. At the same time, Windstream said that the FCC should permit consumers to "continue to use their subsidies toward voice offerings."

Being able to use the Lifeline program for voice as well was an issue raised by a number of state and local politicians. A group of state and local officials in New York, Maryland, Texas and Oregon said that they are concerned that the regulator's plan would force some lower-income families to choose between getting voice or broadband service.

For more:
- see this FCC filing (PDF)

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