The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed a set of reforms that will modernize and drive tougher accountability measures into the Lifeline/Link-Up program. The reforms will set the program on a firmer footing, ensuring millions of low-income Americans continue to receive affordable phone service while using savings from reforms to fund pilot programs for broadband.

Lifeline/Link-Up, which is part of the Universal Service Fund, has provided low-income households with discounts on monthly phone bills and initial installation charges since 1985. However, program rules and administration have not kept pace with significant changes in technology, markets and regulations, which have put increasing pressure on the program.

A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, adopted unanimously by the FCC, takes steps to comprehensively reform and modernize the programs for 21st century communications needs. Building on recommendations of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, the Government Accountability Office, and the National Broadband Plan, proposals include the following:

• Strengthening protections against waste, fraud and abuse, including through creation of a National Accountability Database to verify consumer eligibility
• Taking immediate steps to create a uniform national framework for validating ongoing eligibility
• Ensuring Lifeline only supports services consumers are actually using
• Allowing discounts to be used for bundled voice/broadband service plans
• Launching pilot programs to test strategies for supporting broadband service
• Evaluating a cap on the program, either temporary or permanent, in light of recent, rapid growth

Lifeline provides discounts of approximately $10 per month on telephone service for low-income households, while Link-Up provides discounts of up to $30 on connection charges. Discounts are available for one connection, either wired or wireless, per household.