House Kills Attempt to Limit Lifeline Program

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By Kyle Daly

June 21 — A bill that would eliminate support for wireless broadband service under the Lifeline subsidy program failed to pass the House June 21, in a reprieve for the Federal Communications Commission.

The measure ( H.R. 5525) by Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), which failed on a 207-143 vote, would prohibit any wireless provider from receiving funds under the program, which subsidizes telephone and broadband service for low-income households.

The bill was voted on under suspension of House rules, which required two-thirds of lawmakers present and voting to vote for the bill for it to pass.

The vote is a victory for the FCC, which earlier this year expanded the Lifeline program to include wireless and wireline broadband services.

Scott's bill was meant to “restore the Lifeline program to its original intent” of subsidizing landline telephone service, the Georgia Republican said during House floor debate.

Citing a high-profile Lifeline fraud case involving carrier Total Call Mobile Inc. (2016 TLN 20, 4/5/16), Scott said the program encourages fraud and abuse because it offers participating providers a financial incentive to expand the number of consumers served by the program.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said the bill would harm low-income Americans' ability to find jobs and perform other tasks for which they need phone and internet service. He said the FCC and the Obama administration are already working to detect and eliminate fraud and abuse in the program.

Pallone said he believed Republicans “know there are significant problems” with the bill and put it on the schedule under suspension of the rules to allow it to die quietly and swiftly.

The FCC in March voted 3-2 along party lines to expand Lifeline to include standalone broadband service and set a $2.25 billion soft annual budget cap on the program. Under the soft cap, the agency can consider raising the budget if disbursements near $2.25 billion (2016 TLN 5, 4/1/16).

There are other measures that would limit the size and scope of the Lifeline program, including legislation (H.R. 4884) that would put a hard cap on the Lifeline budget and add a number of other checks and limits on the program. That bill advanced out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Communications and Technology Subcommittee in April (2016 TLN 20, 4/5/16).

Scott has also proposed a $2 billion hard budget cap to Lifeline as an amendment to the House's fiscal 2017 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill.

The White House June 21 issued a veto threat against the spending bill, in part because of provisions aimed against the FCC's net neutrality rules and its proposal to revamp the pay-TV set-top box market.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Daly in Washington at kdaly@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

The text of H.R. 5225 is available at: http://src.bna.com/f6q.

The text of Scott's Lifeline budget cap amendment is available at: http://src.bna.com/f6P.

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