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FCC official pushes subsidy program overhaul

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) subsidy program for poor people needs an overhaul, one of the agency’s commissioners said on Wednesday.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said that the FCC’s Lifeline program should be expanded to cover broadband Internet access and reformed in other ways so that it helps everyone connect in the 21st century.

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“If we fail to take the next step and provide a mechanism to ensure that broadband rates are affordable for low-income consumers as required by the statute, we risk investing billions of dollars building technology bridges to nowhere,” she said during a forum at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Lifeline program provides subsidies for poor Americans’ phone service.

Though it is sometimes disparagingly referred to as the “ObamaPhone” program, it was originally created in the Reagan administration and expanded to include cellphone service while George W. Bush was in office.

But to truly close the “digital divide,” Clyburn wants to expand it to cover high-speed broadband Internet, too.

In her remarks, Clyburn also made additional recommendations for updating the program.

The FCC should establish minimum service standards for any company that gets the subsidy, she said, and the approval process for those companies to participate should be streamlined.

Also, the FCC — not individual companies — should be responsible for determining who is eligible for the program, Clyburn said.

Finally, she called for changes to make it easier for people to enroll in the program while signing up for other government benefits and called for non-governmental organizations to get involved.