Thune and Wicker Statement on Lifeline Program Expansion

June 18, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 on a proposal marking the first step in the process of expanding the Lifeline universal service program to broadband Internet services. U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, issued the following joint statement:
“Today, the FCC adopted a proposal to expand the Lifeline program to subsidize broadband Internet services for low-income households. We are not convinced that the measures taken by the FCC to address waste, fraud, and abuse are sufficient to warrant the expansion of the program. At our subcommittee hearing earlier this month, Committee members on both sides of the aisle expressed concern about the FCC fundamentally changing or growing Lifeline without fixing existing problems first. This expansion may be ‘too much, too soon’ for a program plagued with problems and a lack of accountability in recent years.
“Regardless if Lifeline is expanded to include broadband, we urge the FCC to adopt critical measures to restore fiscal responsibility to ensure that the program serves those who truly need it. We also reiterate our call for the FCC to conduct a full program evaluation in accordance with GAO’s recommendations in its March 2015 report prior to adopting a final order expanding the Lifeline program to broadband.”
Background:  Lifeline is a government program that subsidizes monthly telephone services for eligible low-income participants. Costs have risen from $800 million in 2009 to $1.7 billion in 2014 and are funded by fees on consumer phone bills. In a March 2015 report requested by Chairman Thune, GAO recommended that Lifeline “evaluate the extent to which the program is efficiently and effectively reaching its performance goals” to increase telephone service in low-income households.