Communications Daily and Pacific Standard Quote Partner John Heitmann on NaLA Court Decision
February 5, 2019
Partner John Heitmann was quoted in the Communications Daily article “Court's Lifeline Decision Seen Having Major Implications for Program's Future” and the Pacific Standard article "Why is the FCC Making it Harder for Low-Income Americans to Get Broadband Access?" The FCC has been entangled in a legal battle with the National Lifeline Association over the past few months, over access to the lifeline on Tribal lands. Monday, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected FCC tribal Lifeline support limits and procedures Friday. The 2017 order was vacated and remanded for a new rulemaking in a potential win for wireless resellers like TracFone (see 1902010017). It's a clean win for the order's opponents and the biggest loss for Chairman Ajit Pai so far in court, lawyers said Friday. Others said the FCC likely won't try a do-over on the order or pursue removal non-facilities-based providers in general from the program.

John, who represented the National Lifeline Association in this case, said the program is “in crisis” and "We have a substantially flawed national verifier rollout that if not corrected soon will result in the disconnection of millions of subscribers not because they are ineligible, but because they cannot successfully navigate a difficult process to stay enrolled. We also have minimum service standards that will in December require $40-plus service plans while sunsetting support for voice services. We need for the FCC to step in now to prevent more low-income consumers from being harmed."

Further elaborating on the role of Chairman Ajit Pai, Heitmann said, "Our statistics suggest the program has shrunk 30 percent under Chairman Pai's watch. In large part, regulatory uncertainty created during Chairman Pai's administration. [Pai] started by eliminating [Lifeline Broadband Provider] LBP designations within weeks of walking in the door. That sent a signal to the marketplace that we have problems. The companies have been having difficulty attracting investment to grow in the Lifeline space."

To read the Pacific Standard article, click here. Access may required a subscription.