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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

e-CFR data is current as of December 4, 2019

Title 47Chapter ISubchapter BPart 54 → Subpart E


Title 47: Telecommunication
PART 54—UNIVERSAL SERVICE


Subpart E—Universal Service Support for Low-Income Consumers


Contents
54.400   Terms and definitions.
§54.401   Lifeline defined.
§54.403   Lifeline support amount.
§54.404   The National Lifeline Accountability Database.
§54.405   Carrier obligation to offer Lifeline.
§54.407   Reimbursement for offering Lifeline.
§54.408   Minimum service standards.
§54.409   Consumer qualification for Lifeline.
§54.410   Subscriber eligibility determination and certification.
§54.411   [Reserved]
§54.412   Off reservation Tribal lands designation process.
§54.413   Link Up for rural Tribal lands.
§54.414   Reimbursement for Tribal Link Up.
§54.416   Annual certifications by eligible telecommunications carriers.
§54.417   Recordkeeping requirements.
§54.419   Validity of electronic signatures.
§54.420   Low income program audits.
§54.422   Annual reporting for eligible telecommunications carriers that receive low-income support.
§54.423   Budget.

54.400   Terms and definitions.

As used in this subpart, the following terms shall be defined as follows:

(a) Qualifying low-income consumer. A “qualifying low-income consumer” is a consumer who meets the qualifications for Lifeline, as specified in §54.409.

(b) Toll blocking service. “Toll blocking service” is a service provided by an eligible telecommunications carrier that lets subscribers elect not to allow the completion of outgoing toll calls from their telecommunications channel.

(c) Toll control service. “Toll control service” is a service provided by an eligible telecommunications carrier that allows subscribers to specify a certain amount of toll usage that may be incurred on their telecommunications channel per month or per billing cycle.

(d) Toll limitation service. “Toll limitation service” denotes either toll blocking service or toll control service for eligible telecommunications carriers that are incapable of providing both services. For eligible telecommunications carriers that are capable of providing both services, “toll limitation service” denotes both toll blocking service and toll control service.

(e) Eligible resident of Tribal lands. An “eligible resident of Tribal lands” is a “qualifying low-income consumer,” as defined in paragraph (a) of this section, living on Tribal lands. For purposes of this subpart, “Tribal lands” include any federally recognized Indian tribe's reservation, pueblo, or colony, including former reservations in Oklahoma; Alaska Native regions established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (85 Stat. 688); Indian allotments; Hawaiian Home Lands—areas held in trust for Native Hawaiians by the state of Hawaii, pursuant to the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920 July 9, 1921, 42 Stat. 108, et. seq., as amended; and any land designated as such by the Commission for purposes of this subpart pursuant to the designation process in §54.412.

(f) Income. “Income” means gross income as defined under section 61 of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. 61, for all members of the household. This means all income actually received by all members of the household from whatever source derived, unless specifically excluded by the Internal Revenue Code, Part III of Title 26, 26 U.S.C. 101 et seq.

(g) Duplicative support. “Duplicative support” exists when a Lifeline subscriber is receiving two or more Lifeline services concurrently or two or more subscribers in a household are receiving Lifeline services or Tribal Link Up support concurrently.

(h) Household. A “household” is any individual or group of individuals who are living together at the same address as one economic unit. A household may include related and unrelated persons. An “economic unit” consists of all adult individuals contributing to and sharing in the income and expenses of a household. An adult is any person eighteen years or older. If an adult has no or minimal income, and lives with someone who provides financial support to him/her, both people shall be considered part of the same household. Children under the age of eighteen living with their parents or guardians are considered to be part of the same household as their parents or guardians.

(i) National Lifeline Accountability Database or Database. The “National Lifeline Accountability Database” or “Database” is an electronic system, with associated functions, processes, policies and procedures, to facilitate the detection and elimination of duplicative support, as directed by the Commission.

(j) Qualifying assistance program. A “qualifying assistance program” means any of the federal or Tribal assistance programs the participation in which, pursuant to §54.409(a) or (b), qualifies a consumer for Lifeline service, including Medicaid; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Supplemental Security Income; Federal Public Housing Assistance; Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit; Bureau of Indian Affairs general assistance; Tribally administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF); Head Start (only those households meeting its income qualifying standard); or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).

(k) Direct service. As used in this subpart, direct service means the provision of service directly to the qualifying low-income consumer.

(l) Broadband Internet access service. “Broadband Internet access service” is defined as a mass-market retail service by wire or radio that provides the capability to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all Internet endpoints, including any capabilities that are incidental to and enable the operation of the communications service, but excluding dial-up service.

(m) Voice telephony service. “Voice telephony service” is defined as voice grade access to the public switched network or its functional equivalent; minutes of use for local service provided at no additional charge to end users; access to the emergency services provided by local government or other public safety organizations, such as 911 and enhanced 911, to the extent the local government in an eligible carrier's service area has implemented 911 or enhanced 911 systems; and toll limitation services to qualifying low-income consumers as provided in subpart E of this part.

(n) Supported services. Voice Telephony services and broadband Internet access services are supported services for the Lifeline program.

(o) National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier. The “National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier” or “National Verifier” is an electronic and manual system with associated functions, processes, policies and procedures, to facilitate the determination of consumer eligibility for the Lifeline program, as directed by the Commission.

[77 FR 12966, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 80 FR 40935, July 14, 2015; 81 FR 33089, May 24, 2016]

§54.401   Lifeline defined.

(a) As used in this subpart, Lifeline means a non-transferable retail service offering provided directly to qualifying low-income consumers:

(1) For which qualifying low-income consumers pay reduced charges as a result of application of the Lifeline support amount described in §54.403; and

(2) That provides qualifying low-income consumers with voice telephony service or broadband Internet access service as defined in §54.400. Toll limitation service does not need to be offered for any Lifeline service that does not distinguish between toll and non-toll calls in the pricing of the service. If an eligible telecommunications carrier charges Lifeline subscribers a fee for toll calls that is in addition to the per month or per billing cycle price of the subscribers' Lifeline service, the carrier must offer toll limitation service at no charge to its subscribers as part of its Lifeline service offering.

(b) Eligible telecommunications carriers may allow qualifying low-income consumers to apply Lifeline discounts to any residential service plan with the minimum service levels set forth in §54.408 that includes fixed or mobile voice telephony service, broadband Internet access service, or a bundle of broadband Internet access service and fixed or mobile voice telephony service; and plans that include optional calling features such as, but not limited to, caller identification, call waiting, voicemail, and three-way calling.

(1) Eligible telecommunications carriers may permit qualifying low-income consumers to apply their Lifeline discount to family shared data plans.

(2) Eligible telecommunications carriers may allow qualifying low-income consumers to apply Lifeline discounts to any residential service plan that includes voice telephony service without qualifying broadband Internet access service prior to December 1, 2021.

(3) Beginning December 1, 2016, eligible telecommunications carriers must provide the minimum service levels for each offering of mobile voice service as defined in §54.408.

(4) Beginning December 1, 2021, eligible telecommunications carriers must provide the minimum service levels for broadband Internet access service in every Lifeline offering.

(c) Eligible telecommunications carriers may not collect a service deposit in order to initiate Lifeline for voice-only service plans that:

(1) Do not charge subscribers additional fees for toll calls; or

(2) That charge additional fees for toll calls, but the subscriber voluntarily elects toll limitation service.

(d) When an eligible telecommunications carrier is designated by a state commission, the state commission shall file or require the eligible telecommunications carrier to file information with the Administrator demonstrating that the carrier's Lifeline plan meets the criteria set forth in this subpart and describing the terms and conditions of any voice telephony service plans offered to Lifeline subscribers, including details on the number of minutes provided as part of the plan, additional charges, if any, for toll calls, and rates for each such plan. To the extent the eligible telecommunications carrier offers plans to Lifeline subscribers that are generally available to the public, it may provide summary information regarding such plans, such as a link to a public Web site outlining the terms and conditions of such plans. Lifeline assistance shall be made available to qualifying low-income consumers as soon as the Administrator certifies that the carrier's Lifeline plan satisfies the criteria set out in this subpart.

(e) Consistent with §52.33(a)(1)(i)(C) of this chapter, eligible telecommunications carriers may not charge Lifeline customers a monthly number-portability charge.

(f) Eligible telecommunications carriers may aggregate eligible subscribers' benefits to provide a collective service to a group of subscribers, provided that each qualifying low-income consumer subscribed to the collective service receives residential service that meets the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section and §54.408.

[77 FR 12967, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 80 FR 40935, July 14, 2015; 81 FR 33090, May 24, 2016]

§54.403   Lifeline support amount.

(a) The federal Lifeline support amount for all eligible telecommunications carriers shall equal:

(1) Basic support amount. Federal Lifeline support in the amount of $9.25 per month will be made available to an eligible telecommunications carrier providing Lifeline service to a qualifying low-income consumer, except as provided in paragraph (a)(2) of this section, if that carrier certifies to the Administrator that it will pass through the full amount of support to the qualifying low-income consumer and that it has received any non-federal regulatory approvals necessary to implement the rate reduction.

(2) For a Lifeline provider offering either standalone voice service, subject to the minimum service standards set forth in §54.408, or voice service with broadband below the minimum standards set forth in §54.408, the support levels will be as follows:

(i) Until December 1, 2019, the support amount will be $9.25 per month.

(ii) From December 1, 2019 until November 30, 2020, the support amount will be $7.25 per month.

(iii) From December 1, 2020 until November 30, 2021, the support amount will be $5.25 per month.

(iv) On December 1, 2021, standalone voice service, or voice service not bundled with broadband which meets the minimum standards set forth in §54.408, will not be eligible for Lifeline support unless the Commission has previously determined otherwise.

(v) Notwithstanding paragraph (a)(2)(iv) of this section, on December 1, 2021, the support amount for standalone voice service, or voice service not bundled with broadband which meets the minimum standards set forth in §54.408, provided by a provider that is the only Lifeline provider in a Census block will be the support amount specified in paragraph (a)(2)(iii) of this section.

(3) Tribal lands support amount. Additional federal Lifeline support of up to $25 per month will be made available to a eligible telecommunications carrier providing facilities-based Lifeline service to an eligible resident of Tribal lands, as defined in §54.400(e), if the subscriber's residential location is rural, as defined in §54.505(b)(3)(i) and (ii), and the eligible telecommunications carrier certifies to the Administrator that it will pass through the full Tribal lands support amount to the qualifying eligible resident of Tribal lands and that it has received any non-federal regulatory approvals necessary to implement the required rate reduction.

(b) Application of Lifeline discount amount. (1) Eligible telecommunications carriers that charge federal End User Common Line charges or equivalent federal charges must apply federal Lifeline support to waive the federal End User Common Line charges for Lifeline subscribers if the carrier is seeking Lifeline reimbursement for eligible voice telephony service provided to those subscribers. Such carriers must apply any additional federal support amount to a qualifying low-income consumer's intrastate rate, if the carrier has received the non-federal regulatory approvals necessary to implement the required rate reduction. Other eligible telecommunications carriers must apply the federal Lifeline support amount, plus any additional support amount, to reduce the cost of any generally available residential service plan or package offered by such carriers that provides at least one supported service as described in §54.101(a), and charge Lifeline subscribers the resulting amount.

(2) [Reserved]

[77 FR 12967, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 81 FR 33090, May 24, 2016; 83 FR 2084, Jan. 16, 2018]

Effective Date Note: At 83 FR 2084, Jan. 16, 2018, §54.403(a)(3) was revised. This paragraph contains information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

§54.404   The National Lifeline Accountability Database.

(a) State certification. An eligible telecommunications carrier operating in a state that provides an approved valid certification to the Commission in accordance with this section is not required to comply with the requirements set forth in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this section with respect to the eligible telecommunications carriers' subscribers in that state. A valid certification must include a statement that the state has a comprehensive system in place to prevent duplicative federal Lifeline support that is at least as robust as the system adopted by the Commission and that incorporates information from all eligible telecommunications carriers receiving low-income support in the state and their subscribers. A valid certification must also describe in detail how the state system functions and for each requirement adopted by the Commission to prevent duplicative support, how the state system performs the equivalent functions. The certification must be submitted to the Commission no later than six months from the effective date of this section of the Commission's rules to be valid. Such certification will be considered approved unless the Wireline Competition Bureau rejects the certification within 90 days of filing.

(b) The National Lifeline Accountability Database. In order to receive Lifeline support, eligible telecommunications carriers operating in states that have not provided the Commission with approved valid certification pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section must comply with the following requirements:

(1) All eligible telecommunications carriers must query the National Lifeline Accountability Database to determine whether a prospective subscriber who has executed a certification pursuant to §54.410(d) is currently receiving a Lifeline service from another eligible telecommunications carrier; and whether anyone else living at the prospective subscriber's residential address is currently receiving a Lifeline service.

(2) If the Database indicates that a prospective subscriber, who is not seeking to port his or her telephone number, is currently receiving a Lifeline service, the eligible telecommunications carrier must not provide and shall not seek or receive Lifeline reimbursement for that subscriber.

(3) If the Database indicates that another individual at the prospective subscriber's residential address is currently receiving a Lifeline service, the eligible telecommunications carrier must not seek and will not receive Lifeline reimbursement for providing service to that prospective subscriber, unless the prospective subscriber has certified, pursuant to §54.410(d) that to the best of his or her knowledge, no one in his or her household is already receiving a Lifeline service.

(4) An eligible telecommunications carrier is not required to comply with paragraphs (b)(1) through (3) of this section if it receives notice from a state Lifeline administrator or other state agency that the administrator or other agency has queried the Database about a prospective subscriber and that providing the prospective subscriber with a Lifeline benefit would not result in duplicative support.

(5) Eligible telecommunications carriers may query the Database only for the purposes provided in paragraphs (b)(1) through (b)(3) of this section, and to determine whether information with respect to its subscribers already in the Database is correct and complete.

(6) Eligible telecommunications carriers must transmit to the Database in a format prescribed by the Administrator each new and existing Lifeline subscriber's full name; full residential address; date of birth and the last four digits of the subscriber's Social Security number or Tribal Identification number, if the subscriber is a member of a Tribal nation and does not have a Social Security number; the telephone number associated with the Lifeline service; the date on which the Lifeline service was initiated; the date on which the Lifeline service was terminated, if it has been terminated; the amount of support being sought for that subscriber; and the means through which the subscriber qualified for Lifeline.

(7) In the event that two or more eligible telecommunications carriers transmit the information required by this paragraph to the Database for the same subscriber, only the eligible telecommunications carrier whose information was received and processed by the Database first, as determined by the Administrator, will be entitled to reimbursement from the Fund for that subscriber.

(8) All eligible telecommunications carriers must update an existing Lifeline subscriber's information in the Database within ten business days of receiving any change to that information, except as described in paragraph (b)(10) of this section.

(9) All eligible telecommunications carriers must obtain, from each new and existing subscriber, consent to transmit the subscriber's information. Prior to obtaining consent, the eligible telecommunications carrier must describe to the subscriber, using clear, easily understood language, the specific information being transmitted, that the information is being transmitted to the Administrator to ensure the proper administration of the Lifeline program, and that failure to provide consent will result in subscriber being denied the Lifeline service.

(10) When an eligible telecommunications carrier de-enrolls a subscriber, it must transmit to the Database the date of Lifeline service de-enrollment within one business day of de-enrollment.

(11) All eligible telecommunications carriers must securely retain subscriber documentation that the ETC reviewed to verify subscriber eligibility, for the purposes of production during audits or investigations or to the extent required by NLAD processes, which require, inter alia, verification of eligibility, identity, address, and age.

(c) Tribal Link Up and the National Lifeline Accountability Database. In order to receive universal service support reimbursement for Tribal Link Up, eligible telecommunications carriers operating in states that have not provided the Commission with a valid certification pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section, must comply with the following requirements:

(1) Such eligible telecommunications carriers must query the Database to determine whether a prospective Link Up recipient who has executed a certification pursuant to §54.410(d) has previously received a Link Up benefit at the residential address provided by the prospective subscriber.

(2) If the Database indicates that a prospective subscriber has received a Link Up benefit at the residential address provided by the subscriber, the eligible telecommunications provider must not seek Link Up reimbursement for that subscriber.

(3) An eligible telecommunications carrier is not required to comply with paragraphs (c)(1) through (c)(2) of this section, if it receives notice from a state Lifeline administrator or other state agency that the administrator or other agency has queried the Database about a prospective subscriber and that providing the prospective subscriber with a Link Up benefit would not result in duplicative support or support to a subscriber who had already received Link Up support at that residential address.

(4) All eligible telecommunications carriers must transmit to the Database in a format prescribed by the Administrator each new and existing Link Up recipient's full name; residential address; date of birth; and the last four digits of the subscriber's Social Security number, or Tribal identification number if the subscriber is a member of a Tribal nation and does not have a Social Security number; the telephone number associated with the Link Up support; and the date of service activation. Where two or more eligible telecommunications carriers transmit the information required by this paragraph to the Database for the same subscriber, only the eligible telecommunications carrier whose information was received and processed by the Database first, as determined by the Administrator, will be entitled to reimbursement from the Fund for that subscriber.

(5) All eligible telecommunications carriers must obtain, from each new and existing subscriber, consent to transmit the information required in paragraph (c) of this section. Prior to obtaining consent, the eligible telecommunications carrier must describe to the subscriber, using clear, easily understood language, the specific information being transmitted, that the information is being transmitted to the Administrator to ensure the proper administration of the Link Up program, and that failure to provide consent will result in the subscriber being denied the Link Up benefit.

[77 FR 12968, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 80 FR 40935, July 14, 2015]

§54.405   Carrier obligation to offer Lifeline.

All eligible telecommunications carriers must:

(a) Make available Lifeline service, as defined in §54.401, to qualifying low-income consumers.

(b) Publicize the availability of Lifeline service in a manner reasonably designed to reach those likely to qualify for the service.

(c) Indicate on all materials describing the service, using easily understood language, that it is a Lifeline service, that Lifeline is a government assistance program, the service is non-transferable, only eligible consumers may enroll in the program, and the program is limited to one discount per household. For the purposes of this section, the term “materials describing the service” includes all print, audio, video, and web materials used to describe or enroll in the Lifeline service offering, including application and certification forms.

(d) Disclose the name of the eligible telecommunications carrier on all materials describing the service.

(e) De-enrollment—(1) De-enrollment generally. If an eligible telecommunications carrier has a reasonable basis to believe that a Lifeline subscriber no longer meets the criteria to be considered a qualifying low-income consumer under §54.409, the carrier must notify the subscriber of impending termination of his or her Lifeline service. Notification of impending termination must be sent in writing separate from the subscriber's monthly bill, if one is provided, and must be written in clear, easily understood language. A carrier providing Lifeline service in a state that has dispute resolution procedures applicable to Lifeline termination that requires, at a minimum, written notification of impending termination, must comply with the applicable state requirements. The carrier must allow a subscriber 30 days following the date of the impending termination letter required to demonstrate continued eligibility. A subscriber making such a demonstration must present proof of continued eligibility to the carrier consistent with applicable annual re-certification requirements, as described in §54.410(f). An eligible telecommunications carrier must de-enroll any subscriber who fails to demonstrate eligibility within five business days after the expiration of the subscriber's time to respond. A carrier providing Lifeline service in a state that has dispute resolution procedures applicable to Lifeline termination must comply with the applicable state requirements.

(2) De-enrollment for duplicative support. Notwithstanding paragraph (e)(1) of this section, upon notification by the Administrator to any eligible telecommunications carrier that a subscriber is receiving Lifeline service from another eligible telecommunications carrier or that more than one member of a subscriber's household is receiving Lifeline service and therefore that the subscriber should be de-enrolled from participation in that carrier's Lifeline program, the eligible telecommunications carrier must de-enroll the subscriber from participation in that carrier's Lifeline program within five business days. An eligible telecommunications carrier shall not be eligible for Lifeline reimbursement for any de-enrolled subscriber following the date of that subscriber's de-enrollment.

(3) De-enrollment for non-usage. Notwithstanding paragraph (e)(1) of this section, if a Lifeline subscriber fails to use, as “usage” is defined in §54.407(c)(2), for 30 consecutive days a Lifeline service that does not require the eligible telecommunications carrier to assess and collect a monthly fee from its subscribers, an eligible telecommunications carrier must provide the subscriber 15 days' notice, using clear, easily understood language, that the subscriber's failure to use the Lifeline service within the 15-day notice period will result in service termination for non-usage under this paragraph. Eligible telecommunications carriers shall report to the Commission annually the number of subscribers de-enrolled for non-usage under this paragraph. This de-enrollment information must be reported by month and must be submitted to the Commission at the time an eligible telecommunications carrier submits its annual certification report pursuant to §54.416.

(4) De-enrollment for failure to re-certify. Notwithstanding paragraph (e)(1) of this section, an eligible telecommunications carrier must de-enroll a Lifeline subscriber who does not respond to the carrier's attempts to obtain re-certification of the subscriber's continued eligibility as required by §54.410(f); or who fails to provide the annual one-per-household re-certifications as required by §54.410(f). Prior to de-enrolling a subscriber under this paragraph, the eligible telecommunications carrier must notify the subscriber in writing separate from the subscriber's monthly bill, if one is provided, using clear, easily understood language, that failure to respond to the re-certification request will trigger de-enrollment. A subscriber must be given 60 days to respond to recertification efforts. If a subscriber does not respond to the carrier's notice of impending de-enrollment, the carrier must de-enroll the subscriber from Lifeline within five business days after the expiration of the subscriber's time to respond to the re-certification efforts.

(5) De-enrollment requested by subscriber. If an eligible telecommunications carrier receives a request from a subscriber to de-enroll, it must de-enroll the subscriber within two business days after the request.

[77 FR 12969, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 80 FR 35577, June 22, 2015; 81 FR 33090, May 24, 2016; 81 FR 45974, July 15, 2016; 81 FR 33090, May 24, 2016]

§54.407   Reimbursement for offering Lifeline.

(a) Universal service support for providing Lifeline shall be provided directly to an eligible telecommunications carrier based on the number of actual qualifying low-income customers it serves directly as of the first day of the month. After the National Verifier is deployed in a state, reimbursement shall be provided to an eligible telecommunications carrier based on the number of actual qualifying low-income customers it serves directly as of the first day of the month found in the National Verifier.

(b) For each qualifying low-income consumer receiving Lifeline service, the reimbursement amount shall equal the federal support amount, including the support amounts described in §54.403(a) and (c). The eligible telecommunications carrier's universal service support reimbursement shall not exceed the carrier's rate for that offering, or similar offerings, subscribed to by consumers who do not qualify for Lifeline.

(c) An eligible telecommunications carrier offering a Lifeline service that does not require the eligible telecommunications carrier to assess and collect a monthly fee from its subscribers:

(1) Shall not receive universal service support for a subscriber to such Lifeline service until the subscriber activates the service by whatever means specified by the carrier, such as completing an outbound call; and

(2) After service activation, an eligible telecommunications carrier shall only continue to receive universal service support reimbursement for such Lifeline service provided to subscribers who have used the service within the last 30 days, or who have cured their non-usage as provided for in §54.405(e)(3). Any of these activities, if undertaken by the subscriber, will establish “usage” of the Lifeline service:

(i) Completion of an outbound call or usage of data;

(ii) Purchase of minutes or data from the eligible telecommunications carrier to add to the subscriber's service plan;

(iii) Answering an incoming call from a party other than the eligible telecommunications carrier or the eligible telecommunications carrier's agent or representative;

(iv) Responding to direct contact from the eligible communications carrier and confirming that he or she wants to continue receiving Lifeline service; or

(v) Sending a text message.

(d) In order to receive universal service support reimbursement, an officer of each eligible telecommunications carrier must certify, as part of each request for reimbursement, that:

(1) The eligible telecommunications carrier is in compliance with all of the rules in this subpart; and

(2) The eligible telecommunications carrier has obtained valid certification and recertification forms to the extent required under this subpart for each of the subscribers for whom it is seeking reimbursement.

(e) In order to receive universal service support reimbursement, an eligible telecommunications carrier must keep accurate records of the revenues it forgoes in providing Lifeline services. Such records shall be kept in the form directed by the Administrator and provided to the Administrator at intervals as directed by the Administrator or as provided in this subpart.

[77 FR 12970, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 77 FR 38534, June 28, 2012; 80 FR 35577, June 22, 2015; 80 FR 40935, July 14, 2015; 81 FR 33091, May 24, 2016]

§54.408   Minimum service standards.

(a) As used in this subpart, with the following exception of paragraph (a)(2) of this section, a minimum service standard is:

(1) The level of service which an eligible telecommunications carrier must provide to an end user in order to receive the Lifeline support amount.

(2) The minimum service standard for mobile broadband speed, as described in paragraph (b)(2)(i) of this section, is the level of service which an eligible telecommunications carrier must both advertise and provide to an end user.

(b) Minimum service standards for Lifeline supported services will take effect on December 1, 2016. The minimum service standards set forth below are subject to the conditions in §54.401. The initial minimum service standards, as set forth in paragraphs (b)(1) through (3) of this section, will be subject to the updating mechanisms described in paragraph (c) of this section.

(1) Fixed broadband will have minimum service standards for speed and data usage allowance, subject to the exceptions in paragraph (d) of this section.

(i) The minimum service standard for fixed broadband speed will be 10 Megabits per second downstream/1 Megabit per second upstream.

(ii) The minimum service standard for fixed broadband data usage allowance will be 150 gigabytes per month.

(2) Mobile broadband will have minimum service standards for speed and data usage allowance.

(i) The minimum service standard for mobile broadband speed will be 3G.

(ii) The minimum service standard for mobile broadband data usage allowance will be:

(A) From December 1, 2016 until November 30, 2017, 500 megabytes per month;

(B) From December 1, 2017, until November 30, 2018, 1 gigabyte per month;

(C) From December 1, 2018 until November 30, 2019, 2 gigabytes per month; and

(D) On and after December 1, 2019, the minimum standard will be calculated using the mechanism set forth in paragraphs (c)(2)(ii)(A) through (D) of this section. If the data listed in paragraphs (c)(2)(ii)(A) through (D) do not meet the criteria set forth in paragraph (c)(2)(iii) of this section, then the updating mechanism in paragraph (c)(2)(iii) will be used instead.

(3) The minimum service standard for mobile voice service will be:

(i) From December 1, 2016, until November 30, 2017, 500 minutes;

(ii) From December 1, 2017, until November 30, 2018, 750 minutes; and

(iii) On and after December 1, 2018, the minimum standard will be 1000 minutes.

(c) Minimum service standards will be updated using the following mechanisms:

(1) Fixed broadband will have minimum service standards for speed and data usage allowance. The standards will updated as follows:

(i) The standard for fixed broadband speed will be updated on an annual basis. The standard will be set at the 30th percentile, rounded up to the nearest Megabit-per-second integer, of subscribed fixed broadband downstream and upstream speeds. The 30th percentile will be determined by analyzing FCC Form 477 Data. The new standard will be published in a Public Notice issued by the Wireline Competition Bureau on or before July 31, which will give the new minimum standard for the upcoming year. In the event that the Bureau does not release a Public Notice, or the data are older than 18 months, the minimum standard will be the greater of:

(A) The current minimum standard; or

(B) The Connect America Fund minimum speed standard for rate-of-return fixed broadband providers, as set forth in 47 CFR 54.308(a).

(ii) The standard for fixed broadband data usage allowance will be updated on an annual basis. The new standard will be published in a Public Notice issued by the Wireline Competition Bureau on or before July 31, which will give the new minimum standard for the upcoming year. The updated standard will be the greater of:

(A) An amount the Wireline Competition Bureau deems appropriate, based on what a substantial majority of American consumers already subscribe to, after analyzing Urban Rate Survey data and other relevant data; or

(B) The minimum standard for data usage allowance for rate-of-return fixed broadband providers set in the Connect America Fund.

(2) Mobile broadband will have minimum service standards for speed and capacity. The standards will be updated as follows:

(i) The standard for mobile broadband speed will be updated when, after analyzing relevant data, including the FCC Form 477 data, the Wireline Competition Bureau determines such an adjustment is necessary. If the standard for mobile broadband speed is updated, the new standard will be published in a Public Notice issued by the Wireline Competition Bureau.

(ii) The standard for mobile broadband capacity will be updated on an annual basis. The standard will be determined by:

(A) Dividing the total number of mobile-cellular subscriptions in the United States, as reported in the Mobile Competition Report by the total number of American households, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau, in order to determine the number of mobile-cellular subscriptions per American household. This number will be rounded to the hundredths place and then multiplied by;

(B) The percentage of Americans who own a smartphone, according to the Commission's annual Mobile Competition Report. This number will be rounded to the hundredths place and then multiplied by;

(C) The average data used per mobile smartphone subscriber, as reported by the Commission in its annual Mobile Competition Report. This number will be rounded to the hundredths place and then multiplied by;

(D) Seventy (70) percent. The result will then be rounded up to the nearest 250 MB interval to provide the new monthly minimum service standard for the mobile broadband data usage allowance.

(iii) If the Wireline Competition Bureau does not release a Public Notice giving new minimum standards for mobile broadband capacity on or before July 31, or if the necessary data needed to calculate the new minimum standard are older than 18 months, the data usage allowance will be updated by multiplying the current data usage allowance by the percentage of the year-over-year change in average mobile data usage per smartphone user, as reported in the Mobile Competition Report. That amount will be rounded up to the nearest 250 MB.

(d) Exception for certain fixed broadband providers. Subject to the limitations in paragraphs (d)(1) through (4) of this section, the Lifeline discount may be applied for fixed broadband service that does not meet the minimum standards set forth in paragraph (b)(1) of this section. If the provider, in a given area:

(1) Does not offer any fixed broadband service that meets our minimum service standards set forth in paragraph (b)(1) of this section; but

(2) Offers a fixed broadband service of at least 4 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream in that given area; then,

(3) In that given area, a fixed broadband provider may receive Lifeline funds for the purchase of its highest performing generally available residential offering, lexicographically ranked by:

(i) Download bandwidth;

(ii) Upload bandwidth; and

(iii) Usage allowance.

(4) A fixed broadband provider claiming Lifeline support under this section will certify its compliance with this section's requirements and will be subject to the Commission's audit authority.

(e) Except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, eligible telecommunications carriers shall not apply the Lifeline discount to offerings that do not meet the minimum service standards.

(f) Equipment requirement. (1) Any fixed or mobile broadband Lifeline provider, which provides devices to its consumers, must ensure that all such devices provided to a consumer are Wi-Fi enabled.

(2) A Lifeline provider may not institute an additional or separate tethering charge for any mobile data usage that is below the minimum service standard set forth in paragraph (b)(2) of this section.

(3) Any mobile broadband Lifeline provider which provides devices to its consumers must offer at least one device that is capable of being used as a hotspot. This requirement will change as follows:

(i) From December 1, 2017 to November 30, 2018, a provider that offers devices must ensure that at least 15 percent of such devices are capable of being used as a hotspot.

(ii) From December 1, 2018 to November 30, 2019, a provider that offers devices must ensure that at least 20 percent of such devices are capable of being used as a hotspot.

(iii) From December 1, 2019 to November 30, 2020, a provider that offers devices must ensure that at least 25 percent of such devices are capable of being used as a hotspot.

(iv) From December 1, 2020 to November 30, 2021, a provider that offers devices must ensure that at least 35 percent of such devices are capable of being used as a hotspot.

(v) From December 1, 2021 to November 30, 2022, a provider that offers devices must ensure that at least 45 percent of such devices are capable of being used as a hotspot.

(vi) From December 1, 2022 to November 30, 2023, a provider that offers devices must ensure that at least 55 percent of such devices are capable of being used as a hotspot.

(vii) From December 1, 2023 to November 30, 2024, a provider that offers devices must ensure that at least 65 percent of such devices are capable of being used as a hotspot.

(viii) On December 1, 2024, a provider that offers devices must ensure that at least 75 percent of such devices are capable of being used as a hotspot.

[81 FR 33091, May 24, 2016]

§54.409   Consumer qualification for Lifeline.

(a) To constitute a qualifying low-income consumer:

(1) A consumer's household income as defined in §54.400(f) must be at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of that size; or

(2) The consumer, one or more of the consumer's dependents, or the consumer's household must receive benefits from one of the following federal assistance programs: Medicaid; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; Supplemental Security Income; Federal Public Housing Assistance; or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit.

(b) A consumer who lives on Tribal lands is eligible for Lifeline service as a “qualifying low-income consumer” as defined by §54.400(a) and as an “eligible resident of Tribal lands” as defined by §54.400(e) if that consumer meets the qualifications for Lifeline specified in paragraph (a) of this section or if the consumer, one or more of the consumer's dependents, or the consumer's household participates in one of the following Tribal-specific federal assistance programs: Bureau of Indian Affairs general assistance; Tribally administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; Head Start (only those households meeting its income qualifying standard); or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

(c) In addition to meeting the qualifications provided in paragraph (a) or (b) of this section, in order to constitute a qualifying low-income consumer, a consumer must not already be receiving a Lifeline service, and there must not be anyone else in the subscriber's household subscribed to a Lifeline service.

[77 FR 12970, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 77 FR 38534, June 28, 2012; 81 FR 33093, May 24, 2016]

§54.410   Subscriber eligibility determination and certification.

(a) All eligible telecommunications carriers must implement policies and procedures for ensuring that their Lifeline subscribers are eligible to receive Lifeline services. An eligible telecommunications carrier may not provide a consumer with an activated device that it represents enables use of Lifeline-supported service, nor may it activate service that it represents to be Lifeline service, unless and until it has:

(1) Confirmed that the consumer is a qualifying low-income consumer pursuant to §54.409, and;

(2) Completed the eligibility determination and certification required by this section and §§54.404 through 54.405, and completed any other necessary enrollment steps.

(b) Initial income-based eligibility determination. (1) Except where the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator or other state agency is responsible for the initial determination of a subscriber's eligibility, when a prospective subscriber seeks to qualify for Lifeline using the income-based eligibility criteria provided for in §54.409(a)(1) an eligible telecommunications carrier:

(i) Must not seek reimbursement for providing Lifeline to a subscriber, unless the carrier has received a certification of eligibility from the prospective subscriber that complies with the requirements set forth in paragraph (d) of this section and has confirmed the subscriber's income-based eligibility using the following procedures:

(A) If an eligible telecommunications carrier can determine a prospective subscriber's income-based eligibility by accessing one or more databases containing information regarding the subscriber's income (“income databases”), the eligible telecommunications carrier must access such income databases and determine whether the prospective subscriber qualifies for Lifeline.

(B) If an eligible telecommunications carrier cannot determine a prospective subscriber's income-based eligibility by accessing income databases, the eligible telecommunications carrier must review documentation that establishes that the prospective subscriber meets the income-eligibility criteria set forth in §54.409(a)(1). Acceptable documentation of income eligibility includes the prior year's state, federal, or Tribal tax return; current income statement from an employer or paycheck stub; a Social Security statement of benefits; a Veterans Administration statement of benefits; a retirement/pension statement of benefits; an Unemployment/Workers' Compensation statement of benefit; federal or Tribal notice letter of participation in General Assistance; or a divorce decree, child support award, or other official document containing income information. If the prospective subscriber presents documentation of income that does not cover a full year, such as current pay stubs, the prospective subscriber must present the same type of documentation covering three consecutive months within the previous twelve months.

(ii) Must securely retain copies of documentation demonstrating a prospective subscriber's income-based eligibility for Lifeline consistent with §54.417, except to the extent such documentation is retained by the National Verifier.

(2) Where the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator, or other state agency is responsible for the initial determination of a subscriber's eligibility, an eligible telecommunications carrier must not seek reimbursement for providing Lifeline service to a subscriber, based on that subscriber's income eligibility, unless the carrier has received from the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator, or other state agency:

(i) Notice that the prospective subscriber meets the income-eligibility criteria set forth in §54.409(a)(1); and

(ii) If a state Lifeline administrator or other state agency is responsible for the initial determination of a subscriber's eligibility, a copy of the subscriber's certification that complies with the requirements set forth in paragraph (d) of this section.

(iii) An eligible telecommunications carrier must securely retain all information and documentation provided by the state Lifeline administrator or other state agency consistent with §54.417.

(c) Initial program-based eligibility determination. (1) Except in states where the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator, or other state agency is responsible for the initial determination of a subscriber's program-based eligibility, when a prospective subscriber seeks to qualify for Lifeline service using the program-based criteria set forth in §54.409(a)(2) or (b), an eligible telecommunications carrier:

(i) Must not seek reimbursement for providing Lifeline to a subscriber unless the carrier has received a certification of eligibility from the subscriber that complies with the requirements set forth in paragraph (d) of this section and has confirmed the subscriber's program-based eligibility using the following procedures:

(A) If the eligible telecommunications carrier can determine a prospective subscriber's program-based eligibility for Lifeline by accessing one or more databases containing information regarding enrollment in qualifying assistance programs (“eligibility databases”), the eligible telecommunications carrier must access such eligibility databases to determine whether the prospective subscriber qualifies for Lifeline based on participation in a qualifying assistance program; or

(B) If an eligible telecommunications carrier cannot determine a prospective subscriber's program-based eligibility for Lifeline by accessing eligibility databases, the eligible telecommunications carrier must review documentation demonstrating that a prospective subscriber qualifies for Lifeline under the program-based eligibility requirements. Acceptable documentation of program eligibility includes the current or prior year's statement of benefits from a qualifying assistance program, a notice or letter of participation in a qualifying assistance program, program participation documents, or another official document demonstrating that the prospective subscriber, one or more of the prospective subscriber's dependents or the prospective subscriber's household receives benefits from a qualifying assistance program.

(ii) Must securely retain copies of the documentation demonstrating a subscriber's program-based eligibility for Lifeline, consistent with §54.417, except to the extent such documentation is retained by the National Verifier.

(2) Where the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator, or other state agency is responsible for the initial determination of a subscriber's eligibility, when a prospective subscriber seeks to qualify for Lifeline service using the program-based eligibility criteria provided in §54.409(a)(2) or (b), an eligible telecommunications carrier must not seek reimbursement for providing Lifeline to a subscriber unless the carrier has received from the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator or other state agency:

(i) Notice that the subscriber meets the program-based eligibility criteria set forth in §54.409(a)(2) or (b); and

(ii) If a state Lifeline administrator or other state agency is responsible for the initial determination of a subscriber's eligibility, a copy of the subscriber's certification that complies with the requirements set forth in paragraph (d) of this section.

(iii) An eligible telecommunications carrier must securely retain all information and documentation provided by the state Lifeline administrator or other state agency consistent with §54.417.

(d) Eligibility certification form. Eligible telecommunications carriers and state Lifeline administrators or other state agencies that are responsible for the initial determination of a subscriber's eligibility for Lifeline must provide prospective subscribers Lifeline certification forms that provide the information in paragraphs (d)(1) through (3) of this section in clear, easily understood language. If a Federal eligibility certification form is available, entities enrolling subscribers must use such form to enroll a qualifying low-income consumer into the Lifeline program.

(1) The form provided by the entity enrolling subscribers must provide the information in paragraphs (d)(1)(i) through (vi) of this section:

(i) Lifeline is a federal benefit and that willfully making false statements to obtain the benefit can result in fines, imprisonment, de-enrollment or being barred from the program;

(ii) Only one Lifeline service is available per household;

(iii) A household is defined, for purposes of the Lifeline program, as any individual or group of individuals who live together at the same address and share income and expenses;

(iv) A household is not permitted to receive Lifeline benefits from multiple providers;

(v) Violation of the one-per-household limitation constitutes a violation of the Commission's rules and will result in the subscriber's de-enrollment from the program; and

(vi) Lifeline is a non-transferable benefit and the subscriber may not transfer his or her benefit to any other person.

(2) The form provided by the entity enrolling subscribers must require each prospective subscriber to provide the information in paragraphs (d)(2)(i) through (viii) of this section:

(i) The subscriber's full name;

(ii) The subscriber's full residential address;

(iii) Whether the subscriber's residential address is permanent or temporary;

(iv) The subscriber's billing address, if different from the subscriber's residential address;

(v) The subscriber's date of birth;

(vi) The last four digits of the subscriber's social security number, or the subscriber's Tribal identification number, if the subscriber is a member of a Tribal nation and does not have a social security number;

(vii) If the subscriber is seeking to qualify for Lifeline under the program-based criteria, as set forth in §54.409, the name of the qualifying assistance program from which the subscriber, his or her dependents, or his or her household receives benefits; and

(viii) If the subscriber is seeking to qualify for Lifeline under the income-based criterion, as set forth in §54.409, the number of individuals in his or her household.

(3) The form provided by the entity enrolling subscribers shall require each prospective subscriber to initial his or her acknowledgement of each of the certifications in paragraphs (d)(3)(i) through (viii) of this section individually and under penalty of perjury:

(i) The subscriber meets the income-based or program-based eligibility criteria for receiving Lifeline, provided in §54.409;

(ii) The subscriber will notify the carrier within 30 days if for any reason he or she no longer satisfies the criteria for receiving Lifeline including, as relevant, if the subscriber no longer meets the income-based or program-based criteria for receiving Lifeline support, the subscriber is receiving more than one Lifeline benefit, or another member of the subscriber's household is receiving a Lifeline benefit.

(iii) If the subscriber is seeking to qualify for Lifeline as an eligible resident of Tribal lands, he or she lives on Tribal lands, as defined in 54.400(e);

(iv) If the subscriber moves to a new address, he or she will provide that new address to the eligible telecommunications carrier within 30 days;

(v) The subscriber's household will receive only one Lifeline service and, to the best of his or her knowledge, the subscriber's household is not already receiving a Lifeline service;

(vi) The information contained in the subscriber's certification form is true and correct to the best of his or her knowledge,

(vii) The subscriber acknowledges that providing false or fraudulent information to receive Lifeline benefits is punishable by law; and

(viii) The subscriber acknowledges that the subscriber may be required to re-certify his or her continued eligibility for Lifeline at any time, and the subscriber's failure to re-certify as to his or her continued eligibility will result in de-enrollment and the termination of the subscriber's Lifeline benefits pursuant to §54.405(e)(4).

(e) State Lifeline administrators or other state agencies that are responsible for the initial determination of a subscriber's eligibility for Lifeline must provide each eligible telecommunications carrier with a copy of each of the certification forms collected by the state Lifeline administrator or other state agency for that carrier's subscribers.

(f) Annual eligibility re-certification process.

(1) All eligible telecommunications carriers must re-certify all subscribers 12 months after the subscriber's service initiation date and every 12 months thereafter, except for subscribers in states where the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator, or other state agency is responsible for the annual re-certification of subscribers' Lifeline eligibility.

(2) In order to re-certify a subscriber's eligibility, an eligible telecommunications carrier must confirm a subscriber's current eligibility to receive Lifeline by:

(i) Querying the appropriate eligibility databases, confirming that the subscriber still meets the program-based eligibility requirements for Lifeline, and documenting the results of that review; or

(ii) Querying the appropriate income databases, confirming that the subscriber continues to meet the income-based eligibility requirements for Lifeline, and documenting the results of that review.

(iii) If the subscriber's program-based or income-based eligibility for Lifeline cannot be determined by accessing one or more state databases containing information regarding enrollment in qualifying assistance programs, then the eligible telecommunications carrier may obtain a signed certification from the subscriber on a form that meets the certification requirements in paragraph (d) of this section. If a Federal eligibility recertification form is available, entities enrolling subscribers must use such form to re-certify a qualifying low-income consumer.

(iv) In states in which the National Verifier has been implemented, the eligible telecommunications carrier cannot re-certify subscribers not found in the National Verifier by obtaining a certification form from the subscriber.

(3) Where the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator, or other state agency is responsible for re-certification of a subscriber's Lifeline eligibility, the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator, or state agency must confirm a subscriber's current eligibility to receive a Lifeline service by:

(i) Querying the appropriate eligibility databases, confirming that the subscriber still meets the program-based eligibility requirements for Lifeline, and documenting the results of that review; or

(ii) Querying the appropriate income databases, confirming that the subscriber continues to meet the income-based eligibility requirements for Lifeline, and documenting the results of that review.

(iii) If the subscriber's eligibility for Lifeline cannot be determined by accessing one or more databases containing information regarding enrollment in qualifying assistance programs, then the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator, or state agency may obtain a signed certification from the subscriber on a form that meets the certification requirements in paragraph (d) of this section. If a Federal eligibility recertification form is available, entities enrolling subscribers must use such form to recertify a qualifying low-income consumer.

(4) Where the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator, or other state agency is responsible for re-certification of subscribers' Lifeline eligibility, the National Verifier, state Lifeline administrator, or other state agency must provide to each eligible telecommunications carrier the results of its annual re-certification efforts with respect to that eligible telecommunications carrier's subscribers.

(5) If an eligible telecommunications carrier is unable to re-certify a subscriber or has been notified by the National Verifier, a state Lifeline administrator, or other state agency that it is unable to re-certify a subscriber, the eligible telecommunications carrier must comply with the de-enrollment requirements provided for in §54.405(e)(4).

(g) One-Per-Household Worksheet. The prospective subscriber will complete a form certifying compliance with the one-per-household rule upon initial enrollment. Such form will provide an explanation of the one-per-household rule; include a check box that the applicant can mark to indicate that he or she lives at an address occupied by multiple households; a space for the applicant to certify that he or she shares an address with other adults who do not contribute income to the applicant's household and share in the household's expenses or benefit from the applicant's income; and the penalty for consumer's failure to make the required one-per-household certification, i.e. de-enrollment. At re-certification, if there are changes to the subscriber's household that would prevent the subscriber from accurately certifying to §54.410(d)(3)(vi), then the subscriber must complete a new One-Per-Household Worksheet. If a Federal One Per Household Form is available, entities enrolling subscribers must use such form.

(h) National Verifier transition. As the National Verifier is implemented in a state, the obligations in paragraphs (b) through (g) of this section with respect to the National Verifier and eligible telecommunications carriers will also take effect.

[77 FR 12970, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 77 FR 38534, June 28, 2012; 78 FR 40970, July 9, 2013; 80 FR 40935, July 14, 2015; 81 FR 33093, May 24, 2016; 83 FR 2085, Jan. 16, 2018]

Effective Date Note: At 81 FR 45974, July 15, 2016, §54.410(b)(1)(ii) and (f)(2)(iii), (4), and (5) were amended. These paragraphs contain information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

§54.411   [Reserved]

§54.412   Off reservation Tribal lands designation process.

(a) The Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau and the Office of Native Affairs and Policy may, upon receipt of a request made in accordance with the requirements of this section, designate as Tribal lands, for the purposes of the Lifeline and Tribal Link Up program, areas or communities that fall outside the boundaries of existing Tribal lands but which maintain the same characteristics as lands identified as Tribal lands defined as in §54.400(e).

(b) A request for designation must be made to the Commission by a duly authorized official of a federally recognized American Indian Tribe or Alaska Native Village.

(c) A request for designation must clearly describe a defined geographical area for which the requesting party seeks designation as Tribal lands.

(d) A request for designation must demonstrate the Tribal character of the area or community.

(e) A request for designation must provide sufficient evidence of a nexus between the area or community and the Tribe, and describe in detail how program support to the area or community would aid the Tribe in serving the needs and interests of its citizens and further the Commission's goal of increasing telecommunications access on Tribal lands.

(f) Upon designation by the Wireline Competition Bureau and the Office of Native Affairs and Policy, the area or community described in the designation shall be considered Tribal lands for the purposes of this subpart.

[77 FR 12972, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 77 FR 38534, June 28, 2012]

§54.413   Link Up for rural Tribal lands.

(a) For purposes of this subpart, the term “Tribal Link Up” means an assistance program for eligible residents of Tribal lands, if the subscriber's location is rural, as defined in §54.505(b)(3)(i) and (ii), seeking telecommunications service from a telecommunications carrier that is receiving high-cost support on rural Tribal lands, pursuant to subpart D of this part, that provides:

(1) A 100 percent reduction, up to $100, of the customary charge for commencing telecommunications service for a single telecommunications connection at a subscriber's principal place of residence imposed by an eligible telecommunications carrier that is also receiving high-cost support on rural Tribal lands, pursuant to subpart D of this part. For purposes of this subpart, a “customary charge for commencing telecommunications service” is the ordinary charge an eligible telecommunications carrier imposes and collects from all subscribers to initiate service with that eligible telecommunications carrier. A charge imposed only on qualifying low-income consumers to initiate service is not a customary charge for commencing telecommunications service. Activation charges routinely waived, reduced, or eliminated with the purchase of additional products, services, or minutes are not customary charges eligible for universal service support; and

(2) A deferred schedule of payments of the customary charge for commencing telecommunications service for a single telecommunications connection at a subscriber's principal place of residence imposed by an eligible telecommunications carrier that is also receiving high-cost support on rural Tribal lands, pursuant to subpart D of this part, for which the eligible resident of rural Tribal lands does not pay interest. The interest charges not assessed to the eligible resident of rural Tribal lands shall be for a customary charge for connecting the telecommunications service of up to $200 and such interest charges shall be deferred for a period not to exceed one year.

(b) An eligible resident of rural Tribal lands may receive the benefit of the Tribal Link Up program for a second or subsequent time only for otherwise qualifying commencement of telecommunications service at a principal place of residence with an address different from the address for which Tribal Link Up assistance was provided previously.

[83 FR 2085, Jan. 16, 2018]

Effective Date Note: At 83 FR 2085, Jan. 16, 2018, §54.413 was revised. This section contains information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

§54.414   Reimbursement for Tribal Link Up.

(a) Eligible telecommunications carriers that are receiving high-cost support, pursuant to subpart D of this part, may receive universal service support reimbursement for the reduction in their customary charge for commencing telecommunications service and for providing a deferred schedule for payment of the customary charge for commencing telecommunications services for which the subscriber does not pay interest, in conformity with §54.413.

(b) In order to receive universal support reimbursement for providing Tribal Link Up, eligible telecommunications carriers must use the maps made available by the Administrator to determine an eligible resident of rural Tribal lands' initial eligibility for Tribal Link Up. Eligible telecommunications carriers must obtain a certification form from each eligible resident of Tribal lands that complies with §54.410 prior to enrolling him or her in Tribal Link Up.

(c) In order to receive universal service support reimbursement for providing Tribal Link Up, eligible telecommunications carriers must keep accurate records of the reductions in their customary charge for commencing telecommunications service and for providing a deferred schedule for payment of the charges assessed for commencing service for which the subscriber does not pay interest, in conformity with §54.413. Such records shall be kept in the form directed by the Administrator and provided to the Administrator at intervals as directed by the Administrator or as provided in this subpart. The reductions in the customary charge for which the eligible telecommunications carrier may receive reimbursement shall include only the difference between the carrier's customary connection or interest charges and the charges actually assessed to the subscriber receiving Lifeline services.

[77 FR 12973, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 83 FR 2085, Jan. 16, 2018]

Effective Date Note: At 83 FR 2085, Jan. 16, 2018, §54.414(b) was revised.. This paragraph contains information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

§54.416   Annual certifications by eligible telecommunications carriers.

(a) Eligible telecommunications carrier certifications. Eligible telecommunications carriers are required to make and submit to the Administrator the following annual certifications, under penalty of perjury, relating to the Lifeline program:

(1) An officer of each eligible telecommunications carrier must certify that the carrier has policies and procedures in place to ensure that its Lifeline subscribers are eligible to receive Lifeline services. Each eligible telecommunications carrier must make this certification annually to the Administrator as part of the carrier's submission of annual re-certification data pursuant to this section. In instances where an eligible telecommunications carrier confirms consumer eligibility by relying on income or eligibility databases, as defined in §54.410(b)(1)(i)(A) or (c)(1)(i)(A), the representative must attest annually as to what specific data sources the eligible telecommunications carrier used to confirm eligibility.

(2) An officer of the eligible telecommunications carrier must certify that the carrier is in compliance with all federal Lifeline certification procedures. Eligible telecommunications carriers must make this certification annually to the Administrator as part of the carrier's submission of re-certification data pursuant to this section.

(3) An officer of the eligible telecommunications carrier must certify that the carrier is in compliance with the minimum service levels set forth in §54.408. Eligible telecommunications carriers must make this certification annually to the Administrator as part of the carrier's submission of re-certification data pursuant to this section.

(b) All eligible telecommunications carriers must annually provide the results of their re-certification efforts, performed pursuant to §54.410(f), to the Commission and the Administrator. Eligible telecommunications carriers designated as such by one or more states pursuant to §54.201 must also provide, on an annual basis, the results of their re-certification efforts to state commissions for subscribers residing in those states where the state designated the eligible telecommunications carrier. Eligible telecommunications carriers must also provide their annual re-certification results for subscribers residing on Tribal lands to the relevant Tribal governments.

(c) States that mandate Lifeline support may impose additional standards on eligible telecommunications carriers operating in their states to ensure compliance with state Lifeline programs.

[77 FR 12973, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 77 FR 38534, June 28, 2012; 81 FR 33094, May 24, 2016]

§54.417   Recordkeeping requirements.

(a) Eligible telecommunications carriers must maintain records to document compliance with all Commission and state requirements governing the Lifeline and Tribal Link Up program for the three full preceding calendar years and provide that documentation to the Commission or Administrator upon request. Eligible telecommunications carriers must maintain the documentation required in §§54.404 (b)(11), 54.410(b), 54.410 (c), 54.410(d), and 54.410(f) for as long as the subscriber receives Lifeline service from that eligible telecommunications carrier, but for no less than the three full preceding calendar years.

(b) Prior to the effective date of the rules, if an eligible telecommunications carrier provides Lifeline discounted wholesale services to a reseller, it must obtain a certification from that reseller that it is complying with all Commission requirements governing the Lifeline and Tribal Link Up program. Beginning on the effective date of the rules, the eligible telecommunications carrier must retain the reseller certification for the three full preceding calendar years and provide that documentation to the Commission or Administrator upon request.

(c) Non-eligible telecommunications carrier resellers that purchased Lifeline discounted wholesale services to offer discounted services to low-income consumers prior to the effective date of the rules, must maintain records to document compliance with all Commission requirements governing the Lifeline and Tribal Link Up program for the three full preceding calendar years and provide that documentation to the Commission or Administrator upon request.

[80 FR 40935, July 14, 2015]

§54.419   Validity of electronic signatures.

(a) For the purposes of this subpart, an electronic signature, defined by the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, as an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record, has the same legal effect as a written signature.

(b) For the purposes of this subpart, an electronic record, defined by the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act as a contract or other record created, generated, sent, communicated, received, or stored by electronic means, constitutes a record.

[77 FR 12974, Mar. 2, 2012]

§54.420   Low income program audits.

(a) Independent audit requirements for eligible telecommunications carriers. Companies that receive $5 million or more annually in the aggregate, on a holding company basis, in Lifeline reimbursements must obtain a third party biennial audit of their compliance with the rules in this subpart. Such engagements shall be agreed upon performance attestations to assess the company's overall compliance with rules and the company's internal controls regarding these regulatory requirements.

(1) For purposes of the $5 million threshold, a holding company consists of operating companies and affiliates, as that term is defined in section 3(2) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, that are eligible telecommunications carriers.

(2) The initial audit must be completed one year after the Commission issues a standardized audit plan outlining the scope of the engagement and the extent of compliance testing to be performed by third-party auditors and shall be conducted every two years thereafter, unless directed otherwise by the Commission. The following minimum requirements shall apply:

(i) The audit must be conducted by a licensed certified public accounting firm that is independent of the carrier.

(ii) The engagement shall be conducted consistent with government accounting standards (GAGAS).

(3) The certified public accounting firm shall submit to the Commission any rule interpretations necessary to complete the biennial audit, and the Administrator shall notify all firms subject to the biennial audit requirement of such requests. The audit issue will be noted, but not held as a negative finding, in future audit reports for all carriers subject to this requirement unless and until guidance has been provided by the Commission.

(4) Within 60 days after completion of the audit work, but prior to finalization of the report, the third party auditor shall submit a draft of the audit report to the Commission and the Administrator, who shall be deemed authorized users of such reports. Finalized audit reports must be provided to the Commission, the Administrator, and relevant states and Tribal governments within 30 days of the issuance of the final audit report. The reports will not be considered or deemed confidential.

(5) Delegated authority. The Wireline Competition Bureau and the Office of Managing Director have delegated authority to perform the functions specified in paragraphs (a)(2) and (a)(3) of this section.

(b) Audit requirements for new eligible telecommunications carriers. After a company is designated for the first time in any state or territory, the Administrator will audit that new eligible telecommunications carrier to assess its overall compliance with the rules in this subpart and the company's internal controls regarding these regulatory requirements. This audit should be conducted within the carrier's first twelve months of seeking federal low-income Universal Service Fund support, unless otherwise determined by the Office of Managing Director.

[77 FR 12974, Mar. 2, 2012, as amended at 77 FR 38534, June 28, 2012; 81 FR 33094, May 24, 2016]

§54.422   Annual reporting for eligible telecommunications carriers that receive low-income support.

(a) In order to receive support under this subpart, an eligible telecommunications carrier must annually report:

(1) The company name, names of the company's holding company, operating companies and affiliates, and any branding (a “dba,” or “doing-business-as company” or brand designation) as well as relevant universal service identifiers for each such entity by Study Area Code. For purposes of this paragraph, “affiliates” has the meaning set forth in section 3(2) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended; and

(2) Information describing the terms and conditions of any voice telephony service plans offered to Lifeline subscribers, including details on the number of minutes provided as part of the plan, additional charges, if any, for toll calls, and rates for each such plan. To the extent the eligible telecommunications carrier offers plans to Lifeline subscribers that are generally available to the public, it may provide summary information regarding such plans, such as a link to a public Web site outlining the terms and conditions of such plans.

(b) In order to receive support under this subpart, a common carrier that is designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier under section 214(e)(6) of the Act and does not receive support under subpart D of this part must annually provide:

(1) Detailed information on any outage in the prior calendar year, as that term is defined in 47 CFR 4.5, of at least 30 minutes in duration for each service area in which the eligible telecommunications carrier is designated for any facilities it owns, operates, leases, or otherwise utilizes that potentially affect

(i) At least ten percent of the end users served in a designated service area; or

(ii) A 911 special facility, as defined in 47 CFR 4.5(e).

(iii) Specifically, the eligible telecommunications carrier's annual report must include information detailing:

(A) The date and time of onset of the outage;

(B) A brief description of the outage and its resolution;

(C) The particular services affected;

(D) The geographic areas affected by the outage;

(E) Steps taken to prevent a similar situation in the future; and

(F) The number of customers affected.

(2) The number of complaints per 1,000 connections (fixed or mobile) in the prior calendar year;

(3) Certification of compliance with applicable minimum service standards, as set forth in §54.408, service quality standards, and consumer protection rules;

(4) Certification that the carrier is able to function in emergency situations as set forth in §54.202(a)(2).

(c) All reports required by this section must be filed with the Office of the Secretary of the Commission, and with the Administrator. Such reports must also be filed with the relevant state commissions and the relevant authority in a U.S. territory or Tribal governments, as appropriate.

[77 FR 38534, June 28, 2012, as amended at 81 FR 33095, May 24, 2016]

§54.423   Budget.

(a) Amount of the annual budget. The initial annual budget on federal universal support for the Lifeline program shall be $2.25 billion.

(1) Inflation increase. In funding year 2016 and subsequent funding years, the $2.25 billion funding cap on federal universal service support for Lifeline shall be automatically increased annually to take into account increases in the rate of inflation as calculated in paragraph (a)(2) of this section.

(2) Increase calculation. To measure increases in the rate of inflation for the purposes of paragraph (a) of this section, the Commission shall use the Consumer Price Index for all items from the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. To compute the annual increase as required by this paragraph (a), the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index from the previous year will be used. For instance, the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index from 2015 to 2016 would be used for the 2017 funding year. The increase shall be rounded to the nearest 0.1 percent by rounding 0.05 percent and above to the next higher 0.1 percent and otherwise rounding to the next lower 0.1 percent. This percentage increase shall be added to the amount of the annual funding cap from the previous funding year. If the yearly average Consumer Price Index decreases or stays the same, the annual funding cap shall remain the same as the previous year.

(3) The Wireline Competition Bureau shall issue a public notice on or before July 31 containing the results of the calculations described in §54.403(a)(2) and setting the budget for the upcoming year beginning on January 1.

(b) If spending in the Lifeline program meets or exceeds 90 percent of the Lifeline budget in a calendar year, the Wireline Competition Bureau shall prepare a report evaluating program disbursements and describing the reasons for the program's growth along with any other information relevant to the operation of the Lifeline program. The Bureau shall submit the report to the Commission by July 31st of the following year.

[81 FR 33095, May 24, 2016]

Effective Date Note: At 81 FR 33095, May 24, 2016, §54.423 was added. This section contains information collection and recordkeeping requirements and will not become effective until approval has been given by the Office of Management and Budget.

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