FCC ready to extend “ObamaPhone” privileges

The “ObamaPhone” fight is now heading to the internet. The FCC is proposing to extend subsidies that will help bring internet to the less fortunate. However, conservatives are questioning the effectiveness of the program.

Actually called the Lifeline program, liberals believe it is a great tool for the poor while Republicans want to shut it down. The Lifeline program:

“currently pays carriers to reduce the cost of phone service by $9.25 a month for low-income households. Funded by a universal service fee on consumer phone bills, it’s drawn criticism over cases of fraud and misuse — with conservatives dubbing it Obamaphone even though the program dates back to the Reagan administration.”

Liberals believe this program will help bridge the “digital divide” currently affecting the poor. More and more services are moving to the internet which is making broadband access critical to success in modern society. On the other hand, conservatives are critical of the widespread reports of abuse of the program.

Said Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). “The free government cell phone program is beyond reform and should be ended.”

Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn acknowledges the past issues plaguing the program and wants to make some changes. Part of his strategy is to move the burden of qualifying individuals from the providers to any person that qualifies for food stamps or free school lunches. In addition to changing the qualification process, the FCC plans to regulate the providers as well. Recently the FCC:

Reached a nearly $11 million settlement last month with AT&T and Southern New England Telephone for overbilling the program. The Justice Department has also targeted cases of alleged Lifeline fraud.

Despite the plan for changes the program does not have a lot of support on Capitol Hill. The Republicans especially are concerned about the rising costs, the burden on taxpayers, and the FCC’s ability to continue to clean up the program.

Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has proposed a cap on the program. However Clyburn disagrees claiming:

“To cap the program would go against the universal service doctrine at the core of the 1934 Communications Act. ‘I don’t see anything in the Communications Act that says all these benefits should accrue to everyone but poor people,’ she said. ‘It’s needs-based. If there’s no demand, there’s no expenditure.'”