‘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.


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 WickerMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Instagram sparks new concerns over 'kidfluencer' culture Democrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico MORE (R-Miss.), who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on communications, which convened the hearing.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Against mounting odds, Biden seeks GOP support for infrastructure plan The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden meets with bipartisan lawmakers for infrastructure negotiations 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 ManchinJoe ManchinGOP acknowledges struggle to bring down Biden On The Money: Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats | Justice Dept. sues Trump ally Roger Stone for unpaid taxes Moderates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats 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 NelsonCuba readies for life without Castro Why does Rep. Johnson oppose NASA's commercial human landing system? Trump hands Rubio coveted reelection endorsement in Florida 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.