FCC chief defends budget increase

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) needs an extra $35 million to update its systems and crack down on fraud, Chairman Tom Wheeler told lawmakers.

Testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday, Wheeler said that the commission's request for a 10.5 percent increase in its annual budget would go towards updating its information technology, expanding the program to bring high-speech communications access to all corners of the country and mandatory costs like staff salary.

“This is serious money,” Wheeler told the panel. “You have the right to take a close and hard look at it because it demands explanation.”

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Part of the money would go towards increasing enforcement of a program that subsidizes phone service for some poor Americans. The Lifeline program, which is a part of the Universal Service Fund, was created in 1985 and expanded to cover cell phones in 2005, but has sometimes been referred to as the “Obamaphone” program.

Videos showing people abusing the program caused a stir in recent years, and became a rallying cry for some Republicans who said it epitomized government waste.

“The Lifeline program has been abused,” Wheeler said. “We need more muscular enforcement of what’s going on in Universal Service.”

The agency would also spend more than $2 million on cybersecurity issues.

“We are on the edge of the [Department of Homeland Security’s] minimum standards for what is expected for a federal agency for security. We need to fix that,” Wheeler said.

“If we are charged with responsibility for the networks of America and everybody keeps saying those networks need to be secure, well by golly we’d better be secure in what we’re doing.”

The agency’s budget comes from fees it charges, so extra funding not add to the federal government’s deficit.