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Lifeline Bills Get More Pushback

The House was getting pushback Tuesday on bills that would prevent the FCC from using its Lifeline low-income telecom subsidy for cell phones or mobile wireless.

Not surprisingly, the trade group representing the wireless carriers who would be cut out of the government subsidy—actually paid by telecom customers nationwide and administered by the FCC—was not happy with the prospect.

Meredith Attwell Baker, president of CTIA: The Wireless Association, wrote House majority leader Kevin McCarthy and minority leader Nancy Pelosi opposing the bills.

She took issue with the fact that wireless companies would still have to pay into the Universal Service Fund. "[I]f it is Congress’ desire to end wireless provider access to the USF programs, that effort should be matched with a dollar-for-dollar reduction in what wireless providers pay into the USF."

"While CTIA appreciates the interest some have in limiting the size of the Lifeline program, capping the Lifeline program may be counterproductive to encouraging low-income consumers to adopt communications services that are essential to participation in today’s economy."

That is a point various civil rights groups have made in arguing against the legislation.

Baker made it clear CTIA is not against reforming the USF program and "continually increasing" contributions but said these bills are not the answer. She also took issue with the fact that they were being voted on suspension of the rules, which is a procedural shortcut, though requiring a two-thirds majority for approval.

"[Asking the Energy & Commerce Committee to develop...a solution via regular order would produce a more equitable and appropriate outcome than the two efforts the House will consider this week."

Public Knowledge also put out the word Tuesday to supporters to oppose the Lifeline bills.

"This week, House Republican leaders have tacked on another rider to the funding bill that will likely reduce the availability of Lifeline, a program that subsidizes phone access to low-income consumers, which the FCC recently expanded to include broadband Internet," Public Knowledge said in an email alert. "Those same House leaders are also introducing a bill this week that will eliminate Lifeline funding for mobile devices, which is a cornerstone of the program. This bill will especially harm the poorest Americans who are most reliant on Lifeline and most likely to use mobile services."

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.