The Federal Communications Commission on Friday invalidated the inclusion of nine new broadband Internet Service Providers — including Liberty Puerto Rico — in it’s Lifeline subsidies program, leaving an undetermined number of low-income families that could have benefited in suspense had the program gotten off the ground.
The ISPs — Liberty, Spot On Networks LLC, Boomerang Wireless LLC, KonaTel Inc., STS Media Inc., Applied Research Designs Inc., Kajeet Inc., Northland Cable Television Inc., and Wabash Independent Networks Inc. — had been designated as Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (“ETC”) for Universal Service Support in December and January.
But on Friday, the decision was rolled back, and the petitions were placed on “pending” mode and removed from the streamlined consideration process, the FCC said.
“We find that reconsidering the above-listed petitions for designation as an LBP would promote program integrity by providing the Bureau with additional time to consider measures that might be necessary to prevent further waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program,” the Wireless Bureau said.
“Recent investigations in the Lifeline program raise concerns that substantial waste, fraud, and abuse appears to continue to exist in the program,” the agency said.
Through the Lifeline program, eligible low-income customers may receive a monthly subsidy of $9.25 on their broadband services.
Naji Khoury, president of Liberty Puerto Rico said Monday the company remains optimistic it will eventually get its ETC designation after the FCC finishes its review of the Lifeline program.
“It is important to note that the status of the revoked petitions has been converted to ‘pending before the Bureau’ and that, because we had not implemented the program, there is no immediate impact from this decision,” Khoury said.
“We continue to have high hopes for the program’s potential to positively impact broadband penetration throughout the island, especially low-income households,” he said.
On Friday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, justified the agency’s decision to revoke the designations granted during the final weeks of the Obama Administration by saying they were part of a series of controversial orders and reports.
“In some cases, Commissioners were given no advance notice whatsoever of these midnight regulations,” he said in a statement.
“In other cases, they were issued over the objection of two of the four Commissioners. And in all cases, their release ran contrary to the wishes expressed by the leadership of our congressional oversight committees,” he said.
“These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of Commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward. Accordingly, they are being revoked,” he said.
His decision met the disapproval of at least one other FCC Commissioner, Mignon Clyburg, who said the retractions were done “without a shred of explanation.”
“In the past, then-Commissioner Pai was critical of the agency majority for not providing sufficient reasoning behind its decisions, citing specifically to the Supreme Court case Fox v. FCC which states: ‘[T]he requirement that an agency provide reasoned explanation for its action would ordinarily demand that it display awareness that it is changing position. An agency may not, for example, depart from a prior policy sub silentio[.]’,” she said, noting the designations under the previous administration focused on competition, consumer protection, and cybersecurity.