GOP-Clyburn Lifeline Compromise Collapses, Pai Chief of Staff Says

A Lifeline compromise among FCC Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Mike O’Rielly and Democratic Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn reached this morning fell apart during a delay in the start time of today’s FCC meeting after “bullying” of his Democratic colleague by agency Chairman Tom Wheeler, leading the Commission back toward the earlier Lifeline proposals circulated by the Chairman, according to Commissioner Pai’s chief of staff, Matthew Berry. 

Commissioner Clyburn had reached out to the two Republican Commissioners earlier this week, according to Mr. Berry, and the offices of the three Commissioners “worked through the night” to reach an agreement this morning that included a $2 billion cap on Lifeline support, minimum standards that would transition from 10 to 25 megabits per second for 4G LTE, and the elimination of “enhanced” tribal Lifeline support in any area with more than 50 people per square mile.  Those provisions are similar to a compromise proposal announced by Commissioner Pai earlier this week, with a shift in the budget cap from $1.75 billion to $2 billion.

The collapse of that agreement during the delay of the meeting start-time apparently leaves in place a proposed draft circulated by Chairman Wheeler.  In its original form, that draft would set a $2.25 billion budget, indexed to inflation, with Lifeline-eligible mobile broadband offerings required to include at least 500 megabytes of monthly data at 3G speeds initially, and at least 2 GB of monthly data by the end of 2018, as well unlimited mobile voice minutes starting Dec. 1 of this year (TRDaily, March 8).

In statement, Commissioner Clyburn said, “I must address the elephant in the room—the delay in the meeting and rumors about a proposed cap on the Lifeline program. I have been consistent in saying that a cap should not be imposed and to be honest and completely transparent, I continue to hold that view. However, I have also been steadfast in my desire to reach consensus and seek compromise whenever possible, and I remain vocal in my call for fiscal responsibility for our universal service programs—all of which are capped except Lifeline.

“So, I negotiated in good faith to have a budget mechanism in place, that ensures millions of new households will have the opportunity to afford advanced telecommunications services. Upon further deliberation, I concluded that such a mechanism could not fully achieve my vision of a 21st century Lifeline program, but I applaud the deliberative process and want to thank Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly and their staff for engaging well into the night and morning,” Commissioner Clyburn added.

A spokesperson for the Commission declined to comment on Mr. Berry’s statements, including his allegations about Chairman Wheeler’s role in changing Commissioner Clyburn’s mind. —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily