House E&C Investigating Lifeline Program

The Republican-controlled House Energy & Commerce Committee has launched an investigation into the Universal Service Fund's Lifeline program.

Lifeline is the phone/broadband subsidy for low-income residents that the FCC is transitioning to broadband.

That follows an FCC Notice of Apparent Liability and proposed fine for alleged Lifeline fraud against Total Call Mobile, as well as a letter from Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) to the committee asking for the investigation.

“I have instructed Committee staff to begin an investigation of the Lifeline program consistent with your recommendation," said Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in a letter to Pompeo. "As you so aptly observe, such action is necessary to ensure not only that ratepayer dollars are responsibly spent but also to ensure the long-term effectiveness of the program for those that truly need the assistance.”

The FCC also recently voted on reforms to the Lifeline program that included efforts to rein in waste, fraud and abuse. But the item was controversial after a compromise between Republicans and Democrat Mignon Clyburn that would have capped the fund--one way Republicans want to combat waste, fraud and abuse--fell apart. That did not please Republican legislators.

Though FCC officials have dismissed the suggestion there was anything political or untoward, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai complained about not being able to discuss the Total Call Mobile proposed fine until, conveniently, a day after the FCC's Lifeline vote.

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.