FCC Moves to Subsidize Internet as Republicans Warn of 'Tax' Hike

Denis Rozhnovsky/Shutterstock.com

The agency wants to help poor Americans get online, but Republicans warn of pouring money into the controversial "Obamaphone" program.

The Federal Communications Commission moved forward Thursday with an ambitious plan that could help millions of low-income Americans get online.

The agency proposed overhauling its Lifeline program, which currently covers only phone service, to subsidize high-speed Internet access. The proposal is a recognition of how critical the Internet is now for everyday tasks like finding a job, doing homework, and staying in touch with family.

But the commission's three Democrats had to override opposition from the two Republicans, who argued that the agency should root out fraud and waste in the program before considering paying for new services. Conservatives often mockingly refer to Lifeline as the "Obamaphone" program, but, as the FCC's Democrats repeatedly emphasized Thursday, the program was actually created during the Reagan administration.

"I am befuddled at how this Republican-developed program has suddenly become so partisan," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said.

But Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai argued that the Lifeline program today bears little resemblance to the program of the Reagan era. Although he didn't use the controversial "Obamaphone" term, he argued that the program has "exploded" in size under Obama's watch.

"The reality is this: Adjusting for inflation, the Lifeline program is over 23 times as large today as it was at the end of the Reagan administration," he said. "To equate the two is like saying thatThe Godfather: Part II is the same as Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 because both are movie sequels."

Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly argued that the Democrats are trying to spend as much money as possible before the end of Obama's term.

The Lifeline program, which is currently about $1.7 billion, is funded through "universal-service" fees on consumers' monthly phone bills.

The commission voted to seek comment on its proposal, but it will need to vote again in several months to finalize the changes.

In addition to covering Internet access, the agency's proposal includes measures aimed at cracking down on abuse of the program. For example, phone companies, which get more funding for enrolling more people, would no longer be in charge of verifying that someone is eligible for the program. The agency also asks for comment on whether to cap the size of the program.

So consumers would be allowed to spend their $9.25 monthly subsidy on voice, mobile data, or home Internet access, but the size of that subsidy might not actually increase under the proposal.

"No one is more outraged at some of the absurdities and some of the actions that have occured in the marketplace by unscrupulous people," Wheeler said, arguing that changes made to the program by the George W. Bush-era FCC are primarily to blame for the explosion in fraud. 

Although the Republicans said they are open to considering covering Internet service, they argued that the proposal doesn't go far enough to protect the public's money.

"Despite some positive aspects to parts of this item, the commission's main proposal would take us in the wrong direction," Pai said. "It would expand a broken program. It would waste even more money. And it would raise taxes on the American people."

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat and fierce advocate for Lifeline, acknowledged that the program has become a political powder keg.

"The safe course would be one of inaction. But the oath I took requires that I try and use all the tools in my arsenal to close chronic divides and stay true to those words in the statute," she said. "We must not wait, remain idle, or play it safe when it comes to this program, for we know that broadband is the greatest technology equalizer of our time, but it can only be so, if everyone has access. If we fail or never try, the promises that broadband brings will be reserved only for the privileged."

(Image via Denis Rozhnovsky/ Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.