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 MerkleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump, Biden renew push for Latino support Sunday shows - Trump team defends coronavirus response Oregon senator says Trump's blame on 'forest management' for wildfires is 'just a big and devastating lie' 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 HarrisThe Memo: Debate or debacle? Biden will keep debating Trump, campaign says Joe Scarborough urges Biden: 'Do not do anymore debates' MORE (D-Calif.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump, Biden clash over health care as debate begins Biden calls Trump a 'liar' and a 'clown' at first debate Biden mocks Trump campaign debate claims: 'I've got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready' MORE (I-Vt.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Suburban moms are going to decide the 2020 election MORE (D-N.Y.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Manchin opposes adding justices to the court MORE (D-Mass.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBottom line Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline MORE (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren won't meet with Barrett, calling Trump's nomination an 'illegitimate power grab' The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's tax bombshell | More election drama in Pennsylvania | Trump makes up ground in new polls New Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments MORE (D-Mass.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSupreme Court nominee gives no clues in GOP meeting Warren won't meet with Barrett, calling Trump's nomination an 'illegitimate power grab' Conservative group unveils ad accusing liberals of attacking Barrett's faith MORE (D-Ill.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerWarren won't meet with Barrett, calling Trump's nomination an 'illegitimate power grab' Schumer won't meet with Trump's Supreme Court pick This week: Senate kicks off Supreme Court fight 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 MooreTexas Democrat: US natural gas vital in transition to renewables The Hill's Convention Report: Democratic National Convention kicks off virtually The Hill's 12:30 Report: Postal Service crisis escalates MORE (D-Wis.) and Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksBottom line Democrats go big on diversity with new House recruits Chamber of Commerce, banking industry groups call on Senate to pass corporate diversity bill 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.