The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday failed to pass a measure that would have prohibited the FCC from distributing Lifeline subsidies to cover mobile and broadband services for low-income Americans.
The End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act, which was brought to the floor under a procedural shortcut known as suspension of the rules, failed to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary for passage.
The final vote tally was 207 for the measure and 143 against it, with 84 representatives not voting. Nearly all of the votes in favor of the bill came from House republicans, though one Democrat also voted to pass the bill. Democrats accounted for 136 of the votes against the bill, with an additional seven nay votes coming from Republicans.
The bill came in response to criticism of the Lifeline program, which detractors have said is a target for abuse and fraud.
Supports of Lifeline, however, came out against the bill ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights reached out to House representatives in a letterearlier this week asking them to block the measure. The letter said the bill, known as H.R. 5525, constituted a “counter-productive measure that would reduce the likelihood that low-income people could reestablish financial stability.”
“As we demonstrated in our comments to the Federal Communications Commission on this matter, it is evident from marketplace choices that mobile services have been a particularly important choice for people of color and low-income people,” the letter said. “Moreover, access to mobile services align with important anti-poverty programs.”
CTIA president Meredith Attwell Baker on Tuesday also reached out to House majority and minority leaders Kevin McCarthy and Nancy Pelosi, to voice opposition for the measure on the grounds that U.S. Wireless carriers contribute nearly half of the money used to support Universal Service Fund programs like Lifeline.
Likewise, the Competitive Carriers Association said it supported efforts to “root out waste, fraud and abuse in the Lifeline program,” but said the bill would essentially convert the existing user fees for the Universal Service Fund into an “arbitrary new tax on telecommunication services.”
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), a ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also blasted the bill and its Republican supporters ahead of the vote.
“The American people know that if Republicans were really serious about battling poverty and shrinking the size of Lifeline, they would work with us to create more jobs for those that are unemployed or under-employed,” he said. “The best way to lower the costs of the Lifeline program is to lift people up, not to take away their connection to a better life.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations