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By Lydia Beyoud
May 26 — The House Energy and Commerce Committee has launched an investigation into fraud in the Lifeline program, a federal subsidy program run by the Federal Communications Commission that supports access to mobile phones and telecom services.
The investigation was prompted by a May 25 letter from committee member Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) to committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) seeking an investigation. Pompeo said the FCC had failed to take timely action to curb waste, fraud and abuse, leading to a $51 million proposed fine against Total Call Mobile for allegedly enrolling thousands of duplicate and ineligible consumers into the Lifeline program since 2014 (2016 TLN 20, 4/5/16).
“Now that the FCC has taken steps to expand the scope of the services supported by the Lifeline program without any meaningful controls on its potential size it is more important than ever to ensure waste, fraud and abuse is not just curtailed, but eliminated,” Pompeo said. Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) co-signed the letter.
“Given the enforcement action taken against Total Call Mobile, I agree that this most recent allegation of fraud, coupled with what appears to be a lack of prompt action on the part of the Commission, warrants the additional scrutiny of the committee,” Upton said in a May 26 reply.
The investigation is intended to ensure tax dollars aren't being wasted and to ensure the long-term integrity of the program, Upton said.
The FCC declined to comment on the investigation.
The recently expanded Lifeline program has drawn fire from congressional Republicans since a divisive March 31 FCC vote along party lines to expand the program to include standalone broadband subsidies in addition to support for landline and mobile phones (2016 TLN 5, 4/1/16).
Among the issues that divided the commission was what Republicans viewed as a lack of a hard budget cap, which they said was vital to curb ballooning costs. Democrats expressed concern a cap would prevent eligible recipients from being able to obtain Lifeline support.
A divided Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee approved a bill (H.R. 4884) targeting the Lifeline program on April 19, seeking a hard annual budget cap of $1.5 billion on the program and other restrictions (2016 TLN 20, 4/5/16).
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