Dem to FCC: Broadband subsidies would help veterans

Dem to FCC: Broadband subsidies would help veterans
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Expanding phone subsidies for low-income Americans to include broadband Internet service would help veterans, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a letter Monday.

Blumenthal’s letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman (FCC) Tom Wheeler and Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald also urged them to work to expand veteran access to the program, called Lifeline. He said the program could best serve veterans if it was expanded to include subsidies for broadband service.

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“Veterans can use the Lifeline Program discount to improve access to the technology that will allow them to contact VA for benefits or medical appointments, or to communicate with potential employers or housing providers,” Blumenthal wrote. “The proposal to expand the Lifeline program to broadband, would help veterans access affordable quality health care services.”

Blumenthal, the ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, wrote in the letter that the FCC and VA should collaborate on outreach to veterans about the Lifeline program. “It is our duty to ensure that veterans with limited or no income are accessing each and every resource they may be eligible for,” he said.

He also tied the program to the broader issue of veteran homelessness.

“The fight to end veteran homelessness is still ongoing and we must ensure that we provide as much support as possible in order to ensure housing stability,” he said.

An FCC official said the agency had received and was reviewing the letter.

In a party-line vote earlier this year, the FCC elected to consider ways to expand the subsidy program while also signing off on other accountability measures.

The program currently provides small subsidies to low-income Americans for mobile or landline phone service. Conservatives have tried to tie it to President Obama by using the derisive moniker “Obama phone” for the 30-year-old program.

Those critics have been wary of expanding the program to include discounts for broadband service because they say it is already bloated and vulnerable to fraud. Supporters of the proposal say that expanding the program would give many poor Americans access to a vital resource in the Internet age.

--This report was updated on September 1 at 6:13 a.m.