Dems slam FCC head for proposed limits to low-income internet program

Dems slam FCC head for proposed limits to low-income internet program
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic senators slammed the head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday over his proposal to cut down on a program that helps make broadband and phone service more affordable for low-income households.

The senators' letter targets a proposal introduced by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in November that would significantly curb the scope of benefits from the Lifeline program, which roughly 6.5 million people in poor communities rely on to get access to high-speed internet. Eight million people are eligible for the subsidy program.

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“It is your obligation to the American public, as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to improve the Lifeline program and ensure that more Americans can afford access, and have means of access, to broadband and phone service,” a group of senators wrote in the letter, which was spearheaded by Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest partial shutdown Democrats plan to jam up Senate over shutdown fight Press: White House not only for white males MORE (D-Ore.)

“Your proposal accomplishes the exact opposite — it takes resources out of the hands of the most vulnerable Americans,” they wrote.

Other signatories to the letter were Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Kamala Harris releases 'mixtape' on 'The Late Show' amid 2020 speculation MORE (D-Calif.), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Dem chairman Cummings meets with Trump health chief to discuss drug prices MORE (I-Vt.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Hopes fade for bipartisan bills in age of confrontation MORE (D-N.Y.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Energy: Watchdog investigating EPA enforcement numbers | EPA's Wheeler faces Senate grilling | Interior's offshore drilling staff returning to work during shutdown EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Ocasio-Cortez, progressives express disappointment with climate panel MORE (D-Mass.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenMobile providers at center of privacy storm Hillicon Valley: House chair seeks emergency briefing on wireless industry's data sharing | AG nominee to recuse himself from AT&T-Time Warner merger | Dem questions Treasury, IRS on shutdown cyber risks On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown MORE (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBrown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Gillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Native American group denounces Trump for using Wounded Knee in attack against Warren MORE (D-Mass.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump AG pick: I won't be 'bullied' by anyone, including the president Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Senate Dems set to take aim at new Trump attorney general pick MORE (D-Ill.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Booker presses Barr on impact of mass incarceration on black Americans Barr: I wouldn't go after businesses relying on Obama-era marijuana policy MORE (D-N.J.).

The senators noted that Pai's plan to curb Lifeline would disproportionately hurt families, veterans and people of color. In November, 56 Democrats in the House led by Reps. Gwen MooreGwen Sophia MooreTen Dem lawmakers added to House Ways and Means Committee The 116th Congress can improve Medicare and Social Security Time is money: Let’s open Social Security field offices, not close them MORE (D-Wis.) and Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksConservative leader Meadows condemns King comments 'in strongest sense' Corporate diversity is just another misguided policy from Democrats Democrats must stand up for Israel MORE (D-N.Y.) attacked Pai’s plan, citing similar concerns.

Pai wants to push jurisdiction of the program to states, which he believes will curb “waste, fraud, and abuse that continue to plague the Lifeline program.”

Democrats and other critics worry that states handling the Lifeline program will significantly weaken it.

In their letter on Thursday, senators also pressed Pai for answers about his plans for Lifeline, including information on how many individuals will ultimately lose access to internet because of the plan and what the agency’s alternative plan is to help Americans living on tribal reservations, rural Americans, veterans, the elderly and low-income individuals.

"Instead of cutting the program, we should ensure Lifeline reaches more Americans in need of access to communication services," they wrote.