The Lifeline subsidy was getting hammered by Hill Democrats and Republicans alike at an oversight hearing Thursday, Sept. 14, in the Senate Homeland and Government Affairs Committee, but Democrat Mignon Clyburn came strongly to its defense.
She was in the Democratic majority that voted on a controversial Lifeline reform item last year—the current chairman, Ajit Pai, voted against it for insufficiently reining in waste, fraud and abuse—and cited that reform in her defense of Lifeline.
“Once again we will read headlines trumpeting faults in the FCC’s Lifeline program that do not match the realities of the day," said Clyburn in a statement released after the hearing had concluded but not specifically referring to it. (Editor's note: B&C's headline, based on the legislators' tough questioning, was: "Lifeline Service Gets Hammered in Senate Hearing".)
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"Despite significant reforms made under the previous administration and no new evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse, the Lifeline program continues to be under attack while our nation’s most vulnerable remain on the wrong side of the digital and opportunities divide."
Among those doing the most attacking was Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), ranking member of the committee, who said some folks needed to be thrown in jail and the FCC was essentially derelict in its duty to rein in the widespread waste, fraud and abuse found by a GAO report she had requested.
“I am especially disappointed by the current FCC majority and those who repeatedly reject real reform efforts," Clyburn said. "This administration refuses to allow new broadband providers into the Lifeline program, which will deepen and cement the digital divide while omitting the fact that the Lifeline program has one of the lowest improper payment rates of all government subsidy programs. Continuing to vilify our nation’s only means-tested universal service program and remaining on the sidelines while communities and their residents do without connectivity, is a dereliction of the oath we were sworn to uphold."
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FCC Chairman Pai rescinded the program eligibilities of a handful of companies approved under the former administration—only one of which had been supplying service—saying the FCC needed to hit pause while it worked on a better way of confirming that eligibility for the subsidy funds.
“I, for one, remain committed to working with those who wish to improve the only FCC program that directly tackles the challenge of affordability in communications," Clyburn said. "Going forward, it is my sincere hope that those who are empowered to help those in need will offer solutions, not attacks, so that we may enable all of our citizens to participate in a 21st century digital economy.”
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.