Hill Dems Press Pai to Restore Lifeline Authorizations

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who last week criticized FCC chairman Ajit Pai on the House floor, is heading a letter from 40 Democratic colleagues calling on Pai to expand Lifeline broadband subsidies.

That follows a similar push last week by Senate Democrats.

After Pai rescinded nine (out of some 900) Lifeline authorizations, which were approved in the last few weeks of his predecessor in the post, Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, decried the move in a floor speech and signaled a letter from him and his colleagues would be on the way.

“[Chairman Pai] is writing the rules of modern day capitalism in a way that privileges these elite telecom companies, with concentrated economic power, at the expense of low income Americans," Khanna said. "This Congress must stand united to make sure an unelected bureaucrat doesn’t get to write the rules of our economy in favor of wealthy interests at the expense of ordinary Americans.”

Pai said he made the move to get a better system of vetting waste, fraud and abuse in place before expanding the program. The applications were not dismissed, but returned to "pending" status.

In the letter, the legislators said Pai was hurting "those in our country that need the most help," calling the decision an arbitrary one that will "hurt poor children and widen the digital divide." They asked him to reconsider the decision to remove the companies.

Pai came into the job pledging that closing the digital divide was a priority for him.

Among those signing on to the letter was Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), former ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee.

Some of those legislators will have a chance to grill Pai on the issue early next month. He is scheduled to testify before House and Senate committees March 8.

John Eggerton

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.