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Lawmakers threaten Lifeline program

The FCC recently voted to modernize the Lifeline program for the 21st century by updating the program to include broadband service, an important victory for low-income families across the country. Now Republican lawmakers want to undo that progress by denying subsidies for eligible participants -- and maintaining the digital divide.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) has introducedHR 4884, the Controlling the Unchecked and Reckless Ballooning of Lifeline Act of 2016 – or CURB Lifeline. The bill would cap the program at $1.5 billion and phase out the subsidy for voice-only mobile service. In short, the bill is designed to severely hinder the Lifeline program’s efficacy.

The Communications Workers of America, which recentlyfought to expand the Lifeline program’s services to include broadband, expressed its strong opposition to HR 4884 in a statement:

The services provided by the Lifeline program are essential to full participation in today’s economy and society. Capping the program will turn away eligible households, depress participation, and counteract the FCC’s goal of promoting modern services for low-income families. HR 4884 is an attack on the millions of poor families across the country that might benefit from wireline, wireless, or broadband service as a result of the Lifeline program. Instead of making it harder for workers to apply for jobs and for students to do their homework, lawmakers should work to close the digital divide and achieve universal broadband access.

The Leadership Conference of Civil and Human rights also sent a letter to Reps. Greg Walden (D-OR) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology respectively, on behalf of its diverse membership: “We believe that it is essential to ensure that people of color, low-income people, and other vulnerable populations have access to broadband,” the letter read. “This cap could halt payments to eligible consumers mid-stream or result in unacceptable waiting lists for eligible households or other unreasonable and administratively cumbersome management mechanisms.”


CWA: FCC action to modernize Lifeline is first step to closing the digital divide (Speed Matters, Mar. 31, 2016)


HR 4884 – CURB Lifeline Act of 2016 (US House, March 23, 2016)


FCC receives more than 22,000 petitions supporting Lifeline modernization (Speed Matters, Mar. 24, 2016)


Broad range of groups support Lifeline for broadband (Speed Matters, Sept. 4, 2015)


Support Lifeline, Oppose HR 4884 (The Leadership Conference, Apr. 12, 2016)