Senators blast internet subsidy program

Senators blast internet subsidy program
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Senators on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Thursday criticized a subsidy program for phone and internet access that was the subject of a recent watchdog report detailing cases of fraud and abuse.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHouse GOP sets three FBI interviews in Clinton probe Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — House passes 'right to try' drug bill | Trump moves to restrict abortion referrals House approves 'right to try,' sends bill to Trump's desk MORE (R-Wis.), the panel’s chairman, said at a hearing that there “probably” needs to be a complete overhaul of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline program, which offers low-income households a monthly $9.25 subsidy for mobile and broadband internet access.

“We need to completely rethink how we distribute that subsidy,” Johnson told reporters.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) put out a report in June that found that $1.2 million in subsidies went to fake or deceased people enrolled in the program. The GAO could not verify the eligibility of 36 percent of the program’s subscribers.

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDems seek to chip away at Trump’s economic record The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Republicans see some daylight in midterm polling Trump urges anti-abortion advocates to rally in November MORE (D-Mo.), called on the FCC to crack down on the companies that she says are defrauding the program.

“Why are we providing these companies with this massive opportunity for fraud?” McCaskill said.

Both McCaskill and Johnson suggested diverting funds from Lifeline towards programs focused on expanding rural internet access.

Lifeline supporters defended the program by saying that the GAO’s report is outdated. It relied on data from 2014, before the program underwent a significant reforms, argued Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

“Despite significant reforms made under the previous administration and no new evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse, the Lifeline program continues to be under attack while our nation’s most vulnerable remain on the wrong side of the digital and opportunities divide,” Clyburn said in a statement.

“Continuing to vilify our nation’s only means-tested universal service program and remaining on the sidelines while communities and their residents do without connectivity, is a dereliction of the oath we were sworn to uphold.”