Senators push for possible FCC enforcement over Lifeline fraud

Senators push for possible FCC enforcement over Lifeline fraud

A bipartisan group of senators is calling for scrutiny of a program that aims to provide affordable broadband for low-income households, following a recent report that highlighted abuse and fraud within the initiative.

In a letter on Tuesday to the office of Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducted the original study that revealed abuses in the Lifeline program, Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillKoch-backed group launches six-figure ad buy against Heitkamp GOP Senate candidate slams McCaskill over Clinton ties Dems meddle against Illinois governor ahead of GOP primary MORE (D-Mo.) , Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate GOP shoots down bill blocking Trump tariffs Possible North Korea summit raises anxiety in Washington Wisconsin Republican would sign on to bill to nullify Trump tariffs MORE (R-Wis.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone Misinformation campaign is at the center of opposition to common sense sex trafficking legislation This week: Congress races to prevent third shutdown MORE (R-Ohio) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperWarren turns focus to Kushner’s loans Overnight Energy: Dems probe EPA security contract | GAO expands inquiry into EPA advisory boards | Dems want more time to comment on drilling plan Overnight Regulation: Senate takes first step to passing Dodd-Frank rollback | House passes bill requiring frequent reviews of financial regs | Conservatives want new checks on IRS rules MORE (D-Del.) pressed the watchdog to provide all specific instances of fraud in the program to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The senators wrote that they would like FCC Office of the Inspector General to review the instances for “further investigation and possibly enforcement action.”

The original study that the GAO conducted of the program that's intended to subsidize internet access for low-income households found widespread fraud and abuse.

The report noted that as many as 1.2 million potentially fraudulent accounts were receiving money from the government initiative, totaling as much as $137 million in waste. In some cases money was going to individuals who were deceased.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had initially made it a point to reduce waste in the program, cutting nine broadband providers from the program in February.

The FCC did not comment on the senators' letter on Tuesday, but Pai will likely be eager to cooperate with them.

“Chairman Pai looks forward to working with his colleagues to crack down on the unscrupulous providers that abuse the program, because every dollar that is spent on subsidizing somebody who doesn’t need the help by definition does not go to someone who does," FCC spokesperson Neil Grace said in response to the GAO report when it was released in June.

Despite bipartisan criticism of Lifeline, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Democrat, Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), has cautioned against attacking the Lifeline program too harshly.

After the study’s release in June, Pallone stressed that many problems that GAO found with Lifeline had been corrected prior to the release of its investigation.

“Lifeline has been a critical springboard for struggling families across the country for decades, and it would be a mistake to use this report as an excuse to rip away this essential service from struggling families and hardworking people,” Pallone noted at the time.