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 Democrat releasing book on Trump admin's treatment of migrants at border Sunday shows - Amash, immigration dominate Merkley on delaying endorsement: 'We have a different set of cards this time' 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 HarrisHarris tops Biden in California 2020 poll The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE (D-Calif.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to call on 2020 Democrats to reject money from drug, health insurance industries The hidden connection between immigration and health care: Our long-term care crisis Harris tops Biden in California 2020 poll MORE (I-Vt.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in ahead of House vote to condemn tweet 'Game of Thrones' scores record-breaking 32 Emmy nominations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet MORE (D-N.Y.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei Senators press FTC over 'woefully inadequate' Facebook settlement Head of miners union calls Green New Deal's main goal 'almost impossible' MORE (D-Mass.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid Top Democrat demands answers on election equipment vulnerabilities Advocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform MORE (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHarris tops Biden in California 2020 poll The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE (D-Mass.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinRepublicans scramble to contain Trump fallout Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric MORE (D-Ill.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Schumer throws support behind bill to study reparations 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 MooreThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question Democrats rush to support Pelosi amid fight with Ocasio-Cortez The Trump administration's plan to change the poverty line would hurt communities who need help the most MORE (D-Wis.) and Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksOcasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud New York Democrat on Ocasio-Cortez, other progressives: 'Primaries go two ways' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question 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.