FEATURED:

‘Obama phone’ expansion takes heat at Senate hearing

‘Obama phone’ expansion takes heat at Senate hearing
© Getty Images

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 WickerSenate Republicans demand Google hand over memo advising it to hide data vulnerability Shipping companies want Congress to increase shipping truck size Ricin attacks will continue MORE (R-Miss.), who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on communications, which convened the hearing.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerCook Political Report shifts three Senate races toward Republicans Kavanaugh fight puts Senate on edge of precipice ACLU's M in anti-Kavanaugh ads won't target Flake, Collins 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) ManchinDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Blankenship endorses ex-W.Va. GOP Senate rival, calls him 'lying' drug lobbyist 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 NelsonDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Election Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Election Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B 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.