Here we are halfway through 2021 and the FCC has had a new, Democratic majority for the last six months, it seems like an appropriate time to take a look at what steps it should be taking with the ObamaPhone program (also known as the Lifeline free government cell phone program).
Communications industry expert, analyst, consultant and commentator Mark Lowenstein has some strong ideas and we agree with him completely. So let’s turn the podium over the him and let him expound on the possible future of ObamaPhones.
Excerpted from his brilliant opinion piece on FierceWireless.com:
… I think the new FCC should, and will, prioritize on universal broadband. The urgency of this issue has been made abundantly clear by the Covid pandemic. It’s also the closest we might get to an objective that could actually have a healthy level of bipartisan support. So, it could be a good ‘early win’ for a new Biden administration. Tens of billions have been spent on this cause since the now 10-year-old Obama-era National Broadband Plan was released. Success has been middling – a combination of erroneous data, poor oversight/execution, and technology that was not quite there yet. But there are many more tools in the toolbox now, including mobile/FWA legitimately in the conversation for some locations and use cases. And the dollars should be there. To start, Biden’s FCC will inherit a $10 billion allocation from the increasingly likely new Stimulus plan. Some proceeds from the gazillions that are going to be raised in the C-band auction could also go a long way toward helping fund some of these initiatives.
… Another issue I’d like the FCC to tackle is affordability. Let’s agree that every individual should have a phone (most likely a cell phone), and every household a broadband connection. This combination is still a tough nugget for anyone with an income below the middle class to afford, and Covid is likely to put many millions more into this unfortunate category in the coming months. Chairman Pai was directionally correct in calling out historic programs such Lifeline for fraud and waste. But he went too far in nearly gutting some of these programs. The FCC needs to come up with a modernized approach to this, with more effective oversight. Broadband availability, universal service, and affordability are all part of the same package of needs. One way to “sell” this effectively is to categorize universal, affordable broadband as a key piece of a national infrastructure plan, which could be among the lowest pieces of potential bipartisan fruit in a still-divided Congress.
Here is our contribution to the discussion and a suggestion for President Biden: Next time there is an opening on the Federal Communications Commission, we heartily nominate Lowenstein. He knows the industry inside and out. He understands the needs of ObamaPhone customers and how to balance them with the real world problems in the program. His experience would allow him to approach the program in a way that no other FCC commissioner ever has.
“Commissioner Lowenstein” has a nice ring to it.