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Court blocks Pai’s attack on Tribal Lifeline program

The DC Circuit, a federal appeals court, temporarily blocked the Republican FCC’s attempt to eliminate the Tribal Lifeline program. The program is designed for low-income households living on tribal lands and provides participants with a monthly subsidy -- the $9.25 Lifeline discount plus an additional $25 -- to help them purchase modern communications services.  

In 2017, the Republican FCC led by Chairman Pai attempted to eliminate the Tribal Lifeline program, which would have resulted in mass disconnection and widespread loss of tribal telecommunications services. The court action, throws a wrench in Pai’s attack on the poor. Now, the FCC can either allow the Tribal Lifeline program to continue or restart the rulemaking process consistent with the court’s order.

“Today’s victory means that First Americans who live in some of the most impoverished areas of the country can continue receiving essential Lifeline services that they depend on in emergencies, and for work, family care, education, and other vital day-to-day needs,” said Gene DeJordy, an attorney for the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe.

Trying to eliminate the Tribal Lifeline program is one of many attacks on the Lifeline program by Chairman Pai’s Republican FCC. Pai proposed to target Lifeline funds to facilities-based networks, even as most Lifeline recipients opt for mobile service.  He also wants to ban wireless resellers,  impose a cap to weaken the program, and address “waste, fraud, and abuse” allegations that have been raised and debunked for years. In short, he’s trying to hollow out the program. With this treatment, it’s little surprise that Lifeline enrollments are down nearly 30 percent under Pai’s tenure.


FCC vote could force low-income households offline (Engadget, Nov. 17, 2017)

Ajit Pai loses in court—FCC can’t kill broadband subsidy in Tribal areas (ARS Technica, Aug. 13, 2018)

DC Circ. Rips FCC, Axes Tribal Lifeline Subsidy Limits (Law360, Feb. 1, 2019)