Lifeline Subsidy-Blocking Bill Defeated

The House late Tuesday (June 21) defeated a bill, HR 5525, the End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act of 2016, that would have prevented the FCC's Lifeline low-income Universal Service Fund subsidy from being used for wireless phone or broadband service.

Lifeline is the Universal Service Fund subsidy for low-income Americans.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had scheduled the vote for Tuesday evening on the bill under suspension of the rules (, a procedural shortcut that requires a two-thirds majority.

The vote was 207 for to 143 against, with 206 of the yay votes Republicans (seven Republicans voted against it) and 143 of the nays Democrats (one Democrat voted for it). 

The FCC is migrating the Lifeline phone subsidy to broadband, including mobile broadband, but has gotten pushback from Republicans who argue there is too much waste, fraud and abuse in the program, including in the funding of cell phones and service.

During debate before the vote, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, took to the House floor to slam Republican backers of the bill. (

He said Republicans were looking to gut a Lifeline program created in the Reagan Administration and expanded to wireless in the Bush Administration.

Pallone suggested Republicans knew the bill couldn't pass--given the two-thirds needed--but wanted to force Democrats to kill it.

"The American people know that if Republicans were really serious about battling poverty and shrinking the size of Lifeline, they would work with us to create more jobs for those that are unemployed or under-employed. The best way to lower the costs of the Lifeline program is to lift people up, not to take away their connection to a better life," he said.

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.