Sprint warned changes meant to improve a federal programme offering subsidies for mobile service could backfire, ultimately making access less affordable for low-income citizens.

In March 2016, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved new minimum service standards for its Lifeline programme, which included plans to boost customer data allotments. Following a series of predetermined increases, annual updates starting in December 2019 would set the required Lifeline data allowance at 70 per cent of average mobile data usage per US household.

But operators were shocked when the FCC recently announced the minimum standard would increase from 2GB per month to 8.75GB per month.

Sprint argued in a filing such a drastic jump without a corresponding increase in financial support from the programme would force it to charge customers who currently receive service for free. The operator expressed concern implementing even a modest fee “would lead to a very sharp drop in Lifeline customers”.

It asked the FCC to delay the new standard until the release of the agency’s State of the Lifeline Marketplace report in 2021.

Sprint, through its Assurance Wireless prepaid brand, is one of the largest providers of Lifeline service.

The operator is not the only one airing such concerns. A number of industry associations and public advocacy groups made similar arguments, petitioning the FCC to put off the change.

In particular, CTIA argued the FCC could not have foreseen the rise of unlimited plans when setting its data allowance formula, a development it said produced a “significantly different result than the gradual ascent” the agency was aiming for.

The FCC is currently seeking feedback on the petition, with comments due by 13 September.