Dem bill backs broadband for low-income web users

Dem bill backs broadband for low-income web users
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A group of Democratic lawmakers announced legislation on Monday to have the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) develop a program to provide broadband to underserved communities — less than a week after the agency’s chairman announced his intention to do just that.

Democratic Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Chris MurphyChris MurphySenators eye new sanctions against Iran For Trump and Russia, the fall of Michael Flynn is only the beginning Overnight Finance: Trump's Labor pick withdraws | Ryan tries to save tax plan | Trump pushes tax reform with retailers MORE (Conn.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (Calif.) are backing the bill, which orders the FCC to expand the Lifeline program to provide broadband to low-income people.

The program currently subsidizes phone service in areas where providers would otherwise not be doing business.

The bill would direct the FCC to create a program to allow consumers to accept a bundle of services subsidized through Lifeline, including “broadband, mobile, [and] basic telephone services.”

The bill also takes steps to increase accountability for the program, which conservatives criticize as being poorly managed. The commission would be required to establish a “national database” to determine who is eligible for the program and require there be a Government Accountability Office study of the program a year after the bill passes.

The announcement comes one day before a subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee holds a hearing on the program, and less than a week after the commission announced its proposal for the overhaul of the program.

The proposal is supported by all three Democratic members of the FCC, including Chairman Tom Wheeler.

It is not clear yet if the proposal, which has to be approved at the commission’s meeting this month, would cover just wired broadband or also include mobile broadband.

Though it is likely the FCC’s lifeline reform will be approved at the commission’s meeting this month, legislation on the topic could conceivably inculcate the program against changes that might be instituted by new commissioners.

The bill is designed to support the FCC’s likely action, said Matsui Chief of Staff Julie Eddy — and the lawmakers indicated that they were supportive of the agency taking action.

“Whether through legislation or FCC action, we must act to help bridge the digital divide and level the playing field for all Americans — that's why my colleagues and I are committed to making Internet accessibility for all a priority,” Booker said in a statement.

Legislation is also backed by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Energy and  Commerce Committee, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee’s Communications and Technology subcommittee, Rep. Michael Doyle (D-Pa.), Rep. Peter WelchPeter WelchGot soy milk? Don't let Congress, dairy industry bogart 'milk' label Dems on Flynn: 'This is just the beginning' Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief working to exempt Iraqis from Trump order MORE (D-Vt.) and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.). Co-sponsors in the upper chamber include Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyOvernight Tech: GOP chairman to propose high-skilled visa overhaul | Zuckerberg's 5,700 word letter | Tech lobbies gear up ahead of internet fight Senate Dem blasts GOP for trying to repeal broadband privacy rules Judge orders release of EPA nominee’s emails MORE (D-Mass.), Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalSenate Dems ask DHS inspector general for probe of Trump’s business arrangement If Gorsuch pick leads to 'crisis,' Dems should look in mirror first Senate Dems move to nix Trump's deportation order MORE (D-Conn.) and Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenSenate Dems move to nix Trump's deportation order DNI confirmation hearing expected on Senate return Senate confirms Mnuchin as Treasury secretary MORE (D-Ore.).