Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai put more pressure on the Lifeline affordable internet program Wednesday, announcing that he would allow states to decide which companies are certified to participate.
The announcement comes after Pai's decision earlier this year to cut nine providers from the Lifeline program, which elicited criticism from groups that supported the measures.
In his new statement, Pai said that he would not defend federal certification for the Lifeline program — which subsidizes internet access for low income households — out of respect for states' own legal jurisdictions.
“But as we implement the Lifeline program — as with any program we administer — we must follow the law,” Pai’s statement read. "And the law here is clear: Congress gave state governments, not the FCC, the primary responsibility for approving which companies can participate in the Lifeline program under Section 214 of the Communications Act.”
Twelve states are challenging the legality of FCC’s orders regarding Lifeline. Pai said that it would be a “waste of judicial and administrative resources to defend the FCC’s unlawful action in court,” noting the “FCC will soon begin a proceeding to eliminate the new federal designation process.”
Pai also said that he believed that the FCC should not approve the pending Lifeline Broadband Provider applications for broadband companies seeking to be part of the Lifeline program.
Pai's decision on Wednesday prompted swift backlash from Democrats.
“While today's announcement is not surprising, it is nonetheless deeply disappointing,” said the FCC's sole Democratic commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, in a reaction statement to the announcement.
“Chairman Pai's statement confirms that under this Administration low-income Americans will have less choice for Lifeline broadband, and potential providers who want to serve low-income Americans will face greater barriers to entry and regulatory uncertainty,” Clyburn said.
Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), Communications and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) also blasted Pai’s decision.
"This is another effort by President Trump's FCC to inflict death by a thousand cuts on the Lifeline program. Through lawyerly maneuvering, the FCC is trying to disguise its efforts to eliminate a system designed to make it easier for anyone who needs access to broadband to get it — no matter where they live,” the representatives said in a statement.
“We will continue to fight for this important program that keeps struggling families across the country connected."