Attorney General Brad Schimel Leads Challenge to “Designation Rule” in FCC’s “Lifeline Reform Program”

MADISON, WI – Today, the State of Wisconsin, leading a coalition of 12 States, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit challenging part of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) recent “Lifeline Reform Order.”


The Lifeline program provides low-income consumers discounted rates on certain communications services, which, under this Order, now include broadband internet services. However, that Order also denies to the States—and assigns to the FCC—primary authority to decide which companies operating within their borders are eligible to participate in the expanded Lifeline program. The States argue that this violates two laws: the Communications Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. Wisconsin and the State coalition object to the Order’s “designation rule.”


“As this case shows, federal overreach is not an issue of Republicans versus Democrats. It harms everyone,” said Attorney General Brad Schimel. “The State commissions—including our own Public Service Commission of Wisconsin—have by far the best record of rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program. The Order takes the best cops off the beat. That can only harm Lifeline customers,” Schimel added, paraphrasing FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s dissent. FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly also dissented.


The Order has stirred controversy throughout the country. Eleven States or State commissions have joined Wisconsin’s petition: Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah, the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, the Mississippi Public Service Commission, and the Vermont Public Service Board. In addition, on June 17, 10 Senators and 25 Members of the House of Representatives submitted a letter to the FCC Chairman objecting to the Order’s ousting of State designation authority. Several national interest groups also have condemned the designation rule, including the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA) and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). The National Governors Association (NGA) has also voiced its disapproval of the designation rule.


The case is expected to proceed to merits briefing in the coming months.