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 MerkleyOvernight Energy: Judge halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change | Dems demand details on Interior's offshore drilling plans | Trump mocks wind power Dem senators demand offshore drilling info before Bernhardt confirmation hearing Business groups urge Congress to combat LGBTQ discrimination in workplace 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 HarrisCNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary Trump on 2020 Dems skipping AIPAC: 'I think they're anti-Jewish' The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game MORE (D-Calif.), Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDemocratic Socialists of America endorses Sanders for president Trump on 2020 Dems skipping AIPAC: 'I think they're anti-Jewish' The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game MORE (I-Vt.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandCNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary Amy Poehler reveals which Dem candidates her 'Parks and Recreation' character might vote for The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game MORE (D-N.Y.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyTrump: Green New Deal 'the most preposterous thing' and 'easy to beat' The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change MORE (D-Mass.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTreasury expands penalty relief to more taxpayers Overnight Health Care: Senators seek CBO input on preventing surprise medical bills | Oversight panel seeks OxyContin documents | Pharmacy middlemen to testify on prices | Watchdog warns air ambulances can put patients at 'financial risk' Senate panel to hear from pharmacy middlemen on drug prices MORE (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump on 2020 Dems skipping AIPAC: 'I think they're anti-Jewish' The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference MORE (D-Mass.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court MORE (D-Ill.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker gains first endorsement from state lawmaker in South Carolina CNN town halls put network at center of Dem primary Amy Poehler reveals which Dem candidates her 'Parks and Recreation' character might vote for 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 MooreEx-White House ethics chief compares Ivanka, Kushner security clearances to college admissions scandal Dem compares college cheating scandal to Ivanka, Jared's security clearance Dem lawmakers unveil Journalist Protection Act amid Trump attacks on media MORE (D-Wis.) and Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksTime for a change for America's new middle class Bernie 2020 has Democrats petrified Dem rep: Sanders should register as a Democrat 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.