Subcommittee clears bill on cap for phone, internet subsidies

Subcommittee clears bill on cap for phone, internet subsidies
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A House subcommittee on Tuesday advanced a bill meant to restrict the funds available for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline program, which subsidizes internet and phone service for the poor.

The bill would put a hard cap of $1.5 billion on the program. The FCC voted last month to expand the subsidies to cover broadband internet — which proponents say is a crucial step to modernize the program — but put a higher cap on yearly spending that can still be breached.


"I think ratepayers deserve some protection here too,” said subcommittee chair Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), referring to the way customers pay a fee for programs like Lifeline. “I think the people paying the bill deserve protection too. Just like I think those that need help most among us need support. But I’m willing to do both.”

The hearing became heated at times, with Democrats accusing Republicans of trying to rip much-needed subsidies from the hands of low-income consumers in visceral, personal terms.

“Why are we hurting these people?” said subcommittee ranking member Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) “What did they ever do to you that you want to do this to them? Don’t do this.

“You’re going to be taking away 911 services from them. Who wants to answer for that?”

Walden said he took “a little offense” at the suggestion that Republican lawmakers weren’t interested in helping the poor.

Critics of the program — which some conservatives have branded "Obamaphone" — say it is a persistent target for waste and fraud. Supporters say that it provides a vital resource for low-income people.

Republicans on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted down several Democratic amendments that would have delayed the implementation of a cap and approved one, from Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package Budget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: 'Hold me to it' MORE (D-Ky.), that would allow for a Government Accountability Office study on the cap. The bill will next need to be approved by the full committee.