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FCC Pauses Phase-Out of Lifeline Voice-only Support

In an order dated November 5, 2021, the Wireline Competition Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) paused the phase-out of voice-only LIfeline support, which was scheduled to be eliminated on December 1, 2021. Instead the FCC will maintain voice-only Lifeline support until December 1, 2022.

In its order the FCC said, "...  the potential elimination of voice-only support poses a heightened threat to the safety of low-income Americans during the pandemic." Further, "[W]e find good cause to pause the phase-down of voice-only support for one year to allow the Commission to further analyze the future role of Lifeline support for voice-only services, given the creation of the EBB [Emergency Broadband Benefit] program; the apparent ongoing importance of voice-only service to a significant minority of Lifeline subscribers, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic; and the lack of data regarding the options for affordable service that will be available to low-income consumers if voice-only support is eliminated."

Elimination of voice-only Lifeline support would have potentially adversely impacted 3,000 to 6,000 low-income Vermonters, who depend on voice-only services for their fundamental connectivity needs. On November 4, 2021, Department of Public Service Commissioner June Tierney sent a letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel asking the FCC to reconsider the phase-out of voice-only Lifeline support, stating, "With the COVID-19 pandemic still unabated, the imminent phase-down of Lifeline support for standalone voice service will put lives in danger and exacerbate the financial struggle low-income Vermonters already experience." 

Pausing the phase-out of voice-only support for a year will give both consumers and providers time to consider options and make necessary changes without the fear of imminent loss of a vital service.