FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has long railed against vulnerabilities in the Lifeline Program that enable waste and fraud, and it seems he now has new statistics to back up his argument.
The Government Accountability Office this week posted the results of its own look into Lifeline, which highlight “significant risks” for fraud, waste, and abuse.
The GAO indicates the problem stems in part from the “complex internal control environment” around verifying subscriber eligibility for the program. According to the GAO, many of the more than 2,000 companies participating in the program have “financial incentives to enroll as many customers as possible,” meaning they might be less-than-honest when it comes to enrolling new program participants. In fact, the GAO notes it was unable to confirm whether more than a third – or around 1.2 million – of the 3.5 million participants it reviewed took part in a qualifying benefit program like Medicaid as stated on their applications.
GAO acknowledges the FCC has taken some steps recently to ensure subscriber eligibility, such as testing the system with undercover attempts to subscribe and implementing the NLAD subscriber database in 2014, but the office says the risk of errors remains. Additionally, the GAO says it found around 5,500 potential duplicate subscribers with subsidies totaling around $612,000 each year, as well as more than 6,300 indivuduals who were reported deceased in the Social Security Administration’s master files but still receiving Lifeline benefits totaling nearly $708,000 annually.
GAO indicates many of the challenges facing the Lifeline Program might be overcome if verification of subscriber eligibility is taken out of the hands of providers. That’s a remedy the FCC is already working toward, GAO notes, via a National Verifier the Commission is planning to establish by 2020.
Launched in 1985, the Lifeline program provides subsidies to carriers that help low-income individuals connect via discount communications services.
The program originally included voice services, but was expanded in 2015 to include broadband services. Last year, the Commission voted to modernize the program, approving a $9.25 per month subsidy, as well as setting standards for bundling services and minimum broadband speed, and establishing the aforementioned “National Eligibility Verifier.” More on that here.
Filed Under: Industry regulations