The Federal Communications Commission plans to soon begin working on a proposal to subsidize Internet service for low-income consumers by expanding its Lifeline program, which is mocked by conservatives as the “Obamaphone” program.
All three Democrats on the five-member commission have publicly said they want to use federal money to help ensure that all Americans can afford to get online. Lifeline—which despite the Obamaphone nickname was created during the Reagan administration—currently subsidizes only phone service.
“The Lifeline program, established in the mid ‘80s, has been stuck in the mid ‘80s,” Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn told National Journal during an interview Wednesday on C-SPAN’s The Communicators. Clyburn said she is hoping the agency will unveil a proposal by this summer to expand the program to cover Internet access.
Lifeline subsidizes about $10 of phone service per month for qualifying consumers. Under Clyburn’s plan, that amount wouldn’t necessarily increase, but consumers could choose to have it cover the data on their smartphone or their home broadband connection.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler indicated at a public meeting last December he agrees that Lifeline should cover Internet costs, and Jessica Rosenworcel, the other Democratic commissioner, is particularly focused on ensuring that children from poor families have Internet access at home so they can do their online homework.
But subsidizing broadband access for the poor has the potential to explode into another partisan controversy. The money for Lifeline comes from government fees on consumers’ monthly phone bills, and conservatives have decried the program as a wasteful government handout.
Last Congress, 67 House Republicans co-sponsored a bill that would have curbed the program to only cover landline phones, and 44 House Republicans signed a letter calling for the program to be scrapped altogether. “Obamaphone welfare symbolizes how the culture of government dependency is weakening America,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said at the time.
Even supporters of the $1.7 billion program admit that it has been plagued by fraud and abuse. The FCC and the Justice Department have tried to crack down in recent years on companies scamming the program.
During the C-SPAN interview, Clyburn argued that the FCC should overhaul the program so that the phone and Internet providers aren’t the ones responsible for determining if customers are eligible for the subsidies. That system encourages the companies to lie to receive more subsidies, she argued.
“This program is literally what it says,” she said. “It is a lifeline, an opportunity for those who have significant financial challenges to be able to keep in touch with their doctors, with their educators, with their communities, with their loved ones. And it is vital that we reform that to meet the current needs of our most vulnerable citizens.”
She said she believes it’s possible to cover broadband service without increasing the overall size of the program—which would avoid increasing the fees on consumers’ phone bills.
There is some hope that overhauling Lifeline could be a bipartisan issue. Michael O’Rielly, one of the two Republican FCC commissioners, outlined his own plan last month for updating the program to include broadband. He would also impose a variety of restraints and oversight mechanisms to keep down costs.
But in the wake of the bitterly partisan fight over net neutrality, there might not be much goodwill left between the FCC’s Democrats and Republicans.
- 1 One Nation, Divisible By Demography and Ideology
- 2 Portman Campaign to Reach Out to Democrats at Clinton Rallies
- 3 The 1 Easy Way Donald Trump Could Have Been Even Richer: Doing Nothing
- 4 A Tale of Two Conventions for Charlie Crist
- 5 Accepting Nod, Hillary Clinton Pairs Unifying Tone With Liberal Policies
What We're Following See More »
Hillary Clinton hopes that television ratings for the candidates' acceptance speeches at their respective conventions aren't foreshadowing of similar results at the polls in November. Preliminary results from the networks and cable channels show that 34.9 million people tuned in for Donald Trump's acceptance speech while 33.3 million watched Clinton accept the Democratic nomination. However, it is still possible that the numbers are closer than these ratings suggest: the numbers don't include ratings from PBS or CSPAN, which tend to attract more Democratic viewers.
The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned North Carolina's 2013 voter ID law, saying it was passed with “discriminatory intent." The decision sends the case back to the district judge who initially dismissed challenges to the law. "The ruling prohibits North Carolina from requiring photo identification from voters in future elections, including the November 2016 general election, restores a week of early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect."
An oil pipeline almost as long as the much-debated Keystone XL has won final approval to transport crude from North Dakota to Illinois, traveling through South Dakota and Iowa along the way. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the final blessing to the Dakota Access pipeline on Tuesday. Developers now have the last set of permits they need to build through the small portion of federal land the line crosses, which includes major waterways like the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The so-called Bakken pipeline goes through mostly state and private land."
The U.S. economy grew at an anemic 1.2% in the second quarter, "well below the 2.6% growth economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast." Consumer spending was "robust," but it was offset by "cautious" business investment. "Since the recession ended seven years ago, the expansion has failed to achieve the breakout growth seen in past recoveries. "The average annual growth rate during the current business cycle, 2.1%, remains the weakest of any expansion since at least 1949."