The FCC’s March 31, 2016 Order that modernized Lifeline to include broadband service included references to the FCC working with USAC (Universal Service Administrative Company) when implementing the National Verifier (an online platform that will verify eligibility) “to provide Lifeline providers with guidance and procedures for creating aggregation projects and for enrolling subscribers in aggregation projects”. A footnote on page 55 of the Order states “USAC will not fund consumer outreach efforts but may provide administration and expertise to community-based organizations, housing associations, and institutions seeking to coordinate the aggregation of benefits.”
The National Verifier will not be ready for multiple years. Until then, Internet Service Providers of Lifeline Broadband and community-based organizations, housing associations and institutions may develop agreements to cooperatively aggregate eligible households of Lifeline Broadband service.
What is Lifeline?
The Lifeline Program is a federal program that provides a monthly discount ($9.25) on landline or wireless phone or broadband service to eligible low-income households. The $9.25 is paid directly to the phone or broadband service provider.
The Lifeline discount can lower or eliminate the cost of monthly phone or broadband service bills. Only one discount is available per household, phone or broadband service, not both.
What is Lifeline Broadband Aggregation?
The Lifeline Modernization Order encourages aggregation of eligible households. This means anyone (including community-based organizations, housing associations and anchor institutions) can group eligible consumers to aid their sign up for Lifeline Broadband.
The consumer always retains control of who their Lifeline Broadband Provider is. They must opt-in to a Lifeline Broadband offer and the consumer retains control of the portability of that benefit..
Aggregation is not regulated. This means the FCC nor USAC is involved in aggregation agreements between aggregators and Lifeline Broadband Providers.
Aggregation makes it easier for a Lifeline Broadband Provider to sign up larger numbers of customers. The aggregator can do as much or little of the verification paperwork as they have negotiated with the provider.
The National Verifier (online platform) being created by USAC will not be ready for multiple years. That platform will include a streamlined method for verifying eligibility and for defining aggregated groups of eligible consumers. Until then, verification and aggregation are likely paper-based processes.
What organizations make good aggregators?
Community-based organizations, housing associations and anchor institutions make good aggregators because they know of existing groups who are definitely or or likely eligible consumers. Here is a list of how to determine eligibility. For example, a public housing authority knows definitively all of the households they serve are eligible. A community center serving a low-income neighborhood knows many (but not all) of the households they serve are eligible.
How does the aggregation actually happen?
Aggregation is created by the community-based organization or anchor institution negotiating with Lifeline broadband providers.
What are the responsibilities of the aggregator?
Responsibilities of the aggregator depend upon the negotiations with the Lifeline Broadband Provider. At a minimum, responsibilities of the aggregator might be providing Lifeline Broadband Providers with a list of eligible households that the Lifeline Broadband Provider could reach out to. A more involved aggregation project might include the aggregator gathering eligibility verification for all the participating households, providing digital literacy training, providing low-cost devices, and/ or providing ongoing tech support.
Can the aggregator be paid for aggregation services?
The Lifeline Broadband Provider or anyone else paying for aggregation services is a private agreement, not regulated by the FCC or USAC.
If my organization collects service fees for the broadband service, am I considered an aggregator?
No. If an organization is billing for the broadband service, you may want to be designated as a Broadband Service Provider in order to receive the $9.25 per household. Here are details on becoming a Broadband Service Provider.