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.

ADVERTISEMENT
“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 Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers Democratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight Oregon GOP Senate nominee contradicts own campaign by saying she stands with QAnon 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 HarrisRand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill Minority caucuses call for quick action on police reform Markey, Harris, Booker to introduce resolution calling for elimination of qualified immunity MORE (D-Calif.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden wins DC primary Biden wins Montana primary Biden wins New Mexico primary MORE (I-Vt.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSenate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply It's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE (D-N.Y.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenate Dems introduce bill to keep pilots and bus and train operators safe Markey, Harris, Booker to introduce resolution calling for elimination of qualified immunity GOP Massachusetts governor: Trump's compassion 'nowhere to be found' MORE (D-Mass.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Hydroxychloroquine ineffective in preventing COVID-19, study finds | WHO to resume hydroxychloroquine clinical research | WHO says no evidence coronavirus is mutating Bipartisan lawmakers press Trump administration to get COVID-19 aid to Medicaid providers USTR launches investigations into countries' digital taxes MORE (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenIt's time to shut down industrial animal farming The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Biden wins DC primary MORE (D-Mass.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats aim to amend Graham subpoena to include Trump allies Rosenstein steps back into GOP crosshairs Frustration builds in key committee ahead of Graham subpoena vote  MORE (D-Ill.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill Minority caucuses call for quick action on police reform It's time to shut down industrial animal farming 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 MooreHouse Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments Here are the lawmakers who have self-quarantined as a precaution Lawmakers with first-hand experience using food stamps call on Trump not to cut program MORE (D-Wis.) and Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksA prescriptive path forward for saving struggling countries' economies Minority caucuses endorse Texas Afro-Latina for Congress NY, NJ lawmakers call for more aid to help fight coronavirus 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.