Two FCC commissioners called out wireless carriers in a letter they sent this week to Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Greg Walden about a GOP-backed proposal to put a $1.5 billion annual cap on the FCC’s Lifeline program.
“It is extremely disturbing to learn that the association representing America’s wireless carriers is now opposing the imposition of any spending limitation on the Lifeline program,” Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Ajit Pai write. “This is an interesting position as a number of wireless carriers are either directly or indirectly responsible for some of the waste, fraud and abuse existing in the Lifeline program.”
Earlier in the week, Scott Bergmann, vice president, regulatory affairs at CTIA gave testimony before the subcommittee about CURB (H.R.4884), which is the House bill sponsored by Rep. Scott Austin (R-Ga.) that would impose the cap.
“CTIA believes that capping the Lifeline program may be counterproductive to encouraging low-income consumers to adopt communications services that are essential to participation in today’s economy,” Bergmann notes. ”A cap on the Lifeline program will inherently exclude an undetermined number of the eligible low-income consumers.”
He further says that because Lifeline provides support only to means-tested recipients and serves a purpose more akin to other low-income government programs that are not subject to caps, it is reasonable to distinguish it from other Federal USF programs that are subject to one.
The FCC’s O’Rielly and Pai are in strong support for the cap and H.R.4884. “This measure represents a necessary and important step toward greater fiscal responsibility for the program, especially as it expands in size and scope to cover broadband services,” the commissioners say in their letter.
O’Rielly and Pai further slam wireless carriers in the letter for not paying enough attention to the fiscal impact Lifeline could ultimately have on customers.
“It is not surprising that these carriers seek and enjoy federal government subsidies, but is seems that they are ignoring the financial impact of the program on those Americans — and their subscribers — who are not program recipients, especially those who live on incomes just above program eligibility, and will see their wireless bills increase substantially,” they say.
For its part, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which also sent a letter to Chairman Walden this week, disagrees with a cap.
“We oppose the proposed cap, which would prevent eligible participants from using the Lifeline program and preclude universality, a key principle for Lifeline reform,” the coalition says. “The Lifeline program has never approached full participation rates by eligible populations. This cap could halt payments to eligible consumers mid-stream or result in unacceptable waiting lists for eligible households or other unreasonable and administratively cumbersome management mechanisms.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations