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 MurphyThe Hill's 12:30 Report GOP wins congressional baseball game, ending 7-year losing streak Overnight Regulation: Obama signs chemical safety overhaul 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.

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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 WelchDefiant Sanders tells supporters: 'You can beat the establishment' Lawmakers line up to knock ethanol mandate Hoyer sees no philosophical divide between Clinton, House Dems MORE (D-Vt.) and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.). Co-sponsors in the upper chamber include Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyOvernight Healthcare: GOP plan marks new phase in ObamaCare fight Overnight Healthcare: Dems trying to force Zika vote | White House tries to stall opioids bill for $$ | Free Lyft rides from ObamaCare Overnight Healthcare: New momentum to lift ban on gay men donating blood MORE (D-Mass.), Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalElizabeth Warren joins House Dems' sit-in Democrats stage sit-in on House floor to push for gun vote Dems blast Republicans after failed gun votes MORE (D-Conn.) and Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenRepublican chairman: Our tax reform plan fits with Trump's vision Post Orlando, hawks make a power play Democrats seize spotlight with sit-in on guns MORE (D-Ore.).