‘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 WickerLet's hold Facebook to the same standards as other players in the industry Cindy Hyde-Smith sworn in as Mississippi's latest senator Miss. Dem touts campaign poll saying he leads GOP candidates in Senate race MORE (R-Miss.), who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on communications, which convened the hearing.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerMeet the Democratic sleeper candidate gunning for Senate in Nebraska Tariff fight could hit GOP in key Senate states Russia, China eclipse US in hypersonic missiles, prompting fears 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) ManchinSchumer to oppose Pompeo as secretary of State Fox News poll: Blankenship trails Jenkins, Morrisey in West Virginia primary McConnell tees up Pompeo nomination after dramatic committee vote 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 NelsonSenators debate new business deduction, debt in tax law hearing Winners and losers from Jim Bridenstine’s confirmation as NASA administrator Vulnerable Senate Dems have big cash advantages 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.