House to consider blocking cellphone subsidies

House to consider blocking cellphone subsidies
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Lawmakers are set to vote Tuesday on a bill that would block low-income consumers from getting a federal subsidy for mobile phone and wireless broadband plans.

House Republican leadership will offer the End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act on Tuesday evening. The bill blocks the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline program from funding mobile carriers providing either voice or data service.

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The bill will be considered under suspension of the rules, a procedural move requiring a two-thirds majority to pass the bill. Democrats have generally been opposed to any efforts to limit the program.

Conservatives have long portrayed the program as a handout, with some in political circles deriding the program as “Obamaphone” despite the fact that it existed for years before President Obama entered office.

They argue the program, which began to fund landline telephone service, is a target for abuse and fraud. Senior Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has recently been rolling out the results of his office’s inquiry into what he says is significant fraud on the part of carriers who benefit from the subsidies.

Republicans have chafed at efforts under the Obama administration to expand the program to include cellphone service and, more recently, broadband internet.

Supporters of the program, however, say the updates are important for making sure poor Americans are able to access crucial services.

“By dramatically improving Lifeline’s management and design, and putting the program on sound fiscal footing moving forward, we will help low-income Americans all across our nation connect to the Internet and the opportunities of the broadband revolution,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, in an April statement.