Stormy FCC okays lifeline subsidies for broadband

1 April 2016 by Steve Blum
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The Federal Communications Commission approved a lifeline subsidy for broadband service yesterday with high drama and a party line vote. As is common practice at the FCC, no one knows what the program actually is, except commissioners and staff. And maybe not even them.

According to press reports, yesterday’s meeting was delayed for three hours while democrat Mignon Clyburn tried to negotiate a bipartisan agreement with the two republican commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly. According to a story in FierceWireless, Pai dressed down commission chair Tom Wheeler, blaming him for pulling the rug out from under the talks…

“It turns out that early this morning, perhaps late last night, the chairman and his staff have been actively working to undermine and unwind that bipartisan compromise,” he alleged. “It is one thing to refuse to work toward bipartisan compromise…. It is quite another to launch a political campaign to force a democratic FCC commissioner to renege on her signature issue.”

Pai and O’Rielly pushed for capping the annual tab for the broadband lifeline program at $2.25 billion and extending the program to include 25 Mbps fixed and LTE mobile service under some circumstances. It was Wheeler’s original plan that was approved instead, setting minimum broadband speeds at 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up for fixed service and only a vague “3G” standard for mobile. Or at least that’s what the press release says. It also hints at some possible subtleties in the full order, which hasn’t been released yet. That’ll come when the FCC gets around to it.