We don’t know which side to take in this dispute between the Federal Communications Commission and three Lifeline Assistance free government cell phone companies.
The three companies want the FCC to limit Lifeline regulation and focus instead on increasing competition in the industry.
One one hand, we agree that increased competition will drive Lifeline companies to provide more and better service for their customers. On the other hand, there is so much fraud and abuse in the industry, that it seems foolhardy for the government watchdog to back off on stricter regulations.
The Lifeline Connect Coalition — comprised of current service providers i-wireless, Telrite, and Blue Jay Wireless — held four meeting with FCC commissioners and staff members to express its point of view. The Coalition believes consumers will be better served if the FCC declines to set minimum service standards and, instead, approves the many companies that have already applied to enter the free government cell phone business.
The Coalition said, “Shifting the FCC’s focus to promoting competition and minimizing regulation will result in better service offerings and more innovation for consumers.”
Please allow us to explain:
The FCC wants to establish minimum service standards that must be followed by all service providers. Those standards would prohibit Lifeline companies from offering stripped-down packages that do not meet FCC-established standards.
The Coalition says that many Lifeline customers do not want to pay (and, indeed, cannot afford to pay) for fully-featured packages that include text and broadband. They say consumers will not purchase these packages in sufficient numbers even if they are offered at low, subsidized rates. Instead, the Coalition urged the FCC to approve simpler services like voice-only service. Setting the minimum service bar too high, the Coalition believes, will result in fewer customers receiving more services when the goal should be to provide fewer services to more customers.
The Coalition strongly encouraged the FCC to get off its duff (it didn’t use those words to describe its desired outcome, but we aren’t required to be as diplomatic as the Coalition is in government filings) and approve the 53 Lifeline compliance plans that are awaiting action. Some of them have been in the approval queue for years.
If you’re a basketball fan, you’re probably aware of the 24-second shot clock in the National Basketball Association. It requires a team to take a shot within 24-seconds or lose the ball. The Coalition used a 24-second clock analogy to address the backlog of Lifeline Assistance applications. The Coalition’s “90-day shot clock” proposal would automatically approve new Lifeline providers’ applications if the FCC sits on them for more than 90 days
A summary of the Coalition’s summary called out the FCC’s inaction by saying, “The FCC and certain state commissions inhibit competition by failing to act promptly on applications from would-be competitors and by imposing onerous regulatory burdens with no cost benefit analysis and, in some cases, no authority.”
So what’s your opinion of this dispute?
Would you rather see more services for few customers? Or fewer services for more customers?