‘Obama phone’ expansion takes heat at Senate hearing

‘Obama phone’ expansion takes heat at Senate hearing
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Lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday turned a critical eye to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that provides phone service to low-income individuals.

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Less than a week ago, the FCC announced its intention to expand the Lifeline program, which opponents call “Obama phones," to cover broadband service. But critics said Tuesday that the government should be wary of an expansion before there are more accountability measures in place.

“Before again expanding the program, we need to consider what problems remain and how we can address them, since consumers are bearing the cost of funding the program with increasing phone bills,” said Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers eye ban on Chinese surveillance cameras | DOJ walks back link between fraud case, OPM breach | GOP senators question Google on Gmail data | FCC under pressure to delay Sinclair merger review Top Senate Republicans question Google over Gmail data practices MORE (R-Miss.), who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on communications, which convened the hearing.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk Ernst, Fischer to square off for leadership post MORE (R-Neb.) said that because of “the waste, fraud and abuse that’s already been identified,” she supports capping the program’s budget and requiring participants to provide a copay.

Lawmakers also raised questions about how the program is perceived in their home states. Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas MORE (D-W.Va.) said he heard many stories of people using their Lifeline service for “illicit” purposes and said his constituents were “sick and tired” of waste in the program.

The program also has its supporters. A group of Democratic lawmakers has introduced a bill to support the FCC’s proposal.

“With this enduring principle in mind, it is critical that we not forget the importance of the FCC’s Lifeline program to advancing our universal service goals,” Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonElection security bill picks up new support in Senate Senators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds MORE (D-Fla.) said.

Congress is scrutinizing the proposal as the FCC prepares to bring it up at its June 18 meeting.

The update would also include accountability measures, including a new third party to determine who is eligible for the program. Currently, eligibility is determined by the phone service providers.