Pai Pushes States for Lifeline Subsidy Abuse Info

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai has sent letters to four state public utility commissions (PUCs) looking to compare notes on waste, fraud and abuse in the FCC's Lifeline program, which subsidizes advanced telecommunications to economically challenged areas.

In the letters -- to PUCs in Texas, Vermont, California and Oregon -- Pai said he was seeking their aid for a program riddled with waste, fraud and abuse ever since wireless service resellers were allowed in. Those are states that run their own lifeline accountability databases.

Related:House E&C Investigating Lifeline Reform | Lifeline Subsidy-Blocking Bill Defeated

The FCC does not subsidize more than one Lifeline subscription per household, but Pai noted that safeguards to prevent multiple subscriptions in the FCC's own lifeline accountability database have not been working, citing for one the FCC's proposed $51 million forfeiture against Total Call Mobile for registering more than 32,000 duplicates.

He said he wanted to alert the states to the abuses the FCC has seen and get input from their experiences combatting abuses.

To that end, he asked questions including how the states account for addresses not easily verified and what they does to remedy an abuse once identified.

He requested that they get back to him by Aug. 2.

In a split decision, with the Republicans strongly dissenting, the FCC in March voted on Lifeline reforms -- including migrating the program to broadband -- that Pai thought did not sufficiently address the issues of waste, fraud and abuse.

Pai was particularly unhappy that a compromise struck between the two Republicans and Democrat Mignon Clyburn fell apart at the last minute. It would have capped the fund, something Republicans argue is a key step in controlling abuses.

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.