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Engel, House Dems Write to FCC Chairman Pai Urging Him to Protect Lifeline Program

Engel, House Dems Write to FCC Chairman Pai Urging Him to Protect Lifeline Program

Program provides access to phone and broadband services to over 13 million low-income Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congressman Eliot Engel, a top member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today joined Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo, Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke and over 60 other House members in writing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, urging him to protect the Lifeline program which provides access to phone and broadband services to over 13 million low-income Americans, the majority of whom earn less than $10,000 a year.

“From Day one of Ajit Pai’s term as FCC Chairman, the commission has done nothing but work to revoke key consumer protections,” Engel said. “Net neutrality, consumer privacy, and now the Lifeline program have all come under attack from this FCC and it’s the American people who are left to deal with the consequences. Lifeline helps millions of Americans each year. It must be preserved now and for future generations.”

The FCC recently voted 3 to 2 on party lines to proceed with a new proposal that will make it more difficult for eligible households to attain Lifeline’s services and will remove nearly 8 million current participants from the program. The FCC’s plan includes establishing caps on the Lifeline program, mandating co-pays from participants, and invalidating 4 out of 5 of the current providers of Lifeline services. The letter urges the Chairman to abandon this proposal and instead, move forward with reforms like the National Verifier, which ensures oversight of Lifeline.

“The Lifeline Program is essential for millions of Americans who use their devices to find jobs, schedule doctor’s appointments, complete their school assignments, call 9-1-1 during an emergency or to communicate with their loved ones,” the Members wrote. “Policymakers at all levels of government are united in their desire to close the digital divide, but the FCC should be strengthening Lifeline which has brought connectivity to millions of Americans.”

Since the program was created in 1985 under President Ronald Reagan, Lifeline has provided a discount on phone services for low-income consumers to ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that phone services bring, including being able to connect to jobs, family and emergency services.

The full text of the letter is below: 

 

 

March 21, 2018

The Honorable Ajit V. Pai

Chairman

Federal Communications Commission

445 12th Street SW

Washington, DC 20554

 

Dear Chairman Pai:

We urge you to abandon your plan to drastically cut back the congressionally-mandated Lifeline program that has successfully provided phone and internet services when people cannot afford them.  We ask that you reconsider your plan to take this critical program away from 8.3 million struggling Americans.

The Lifeline Program is essential for millions of Americans who use their devices to find jobs, to schedule doctor’s appointments, to complete their school assignments, to interface with the government, or to stay in touch with their loved ones.  The program helps Americans—including disproportionate numbers of veterans and people of color—help themselves.

The FCC recently proposed to exclude the majority of carriers from participating in the program and to arbitrarily cap the fund.  While you have stated that you are aiming to curb waste, fraud, and abuse, experts have repeatedly testified that the sorts of measures you are proposing do not have a successful track record.  Instead, these approaches merely force millions of otherwise qualified people to lose service.  These measures could be especially brutal during periods of economic downturn when people need the most help.

If you are truly concerned about waste, fraud, and abuse, the Commission should work to accelerate the rollout of the National Verifier that would ensure centralized oversight of the program.  Unlike your approach, the National Verifier has received widespread and bipartisan support.  In fact, the Government Accountability Office has testified that the National Verifier will resolve most issues that may remain with the program without the same brutal side effects on low-income communities. Remarkably, among the comments filed by key stakeholders on the docket, we are not aware of any that fully embrace the Chairman’s proposal, and most urge substantial revision if not outright abandonment of the proceeding.

We therefore ask that you abandon this proceeding cutting the Lifeline program, and instead move forward with a full implementation of the 2016 reforms, including the expedition of the National Verifier. Policymakers at all levels of government are united in their desire to close the digital divide, but the last thing we should be doing is rolling back the policies that have brought connectivity to millions of Americans. This proposal is untimely, counterproductive, and actively undermines our shared goal of connecting everyone.