Gratuitously Cruel: GOP Planning to Make It Harder for Poor Families to Have Cheap Phone and Internet Access
Something called the “End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phone Act,” was announced Tuesday by 19 Republican representatives. Its author, Republican Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), and 18 other Republican shills hope to stop poor people from having any access to affordable broadband and mobile phones. The bill goes after the Lifeline program that began in 1985 providing subsidies for telephones, and in recent years, was expanded to include broadband Internet and mobile phones. The idea is to help low-income folks from falling completely off the grid of society without access to our technological advances in communications. The bill is very clear.
To prohibit universal service support of commercial mobile service and commercial mobile data service through the Lifeline program.
Why do we need to continue to attack the Lifeline program after new FCC chairman Ajit Pai already stymied its modest expansion? Taxpayer money! Fiscal waste! The big “waste” that Rep. Scott cites in his announcement?
“Hardworking American taxpayers are already overburdened and should not be forced to pay for a program that has vastly expanded beyond its intended scope and is riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse,” said Rep. Scott. “My bill will reform the Lifeline Program and restore it to its original purpose of providing landline services and prohibit Universal Service support for mobile services. In order to promote government accountability, cut government fraud and waste, and protect consumers from further increases to their phone bills, the Lifeline Program’s free cell phone plans should end.”
On June 29, 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report which detailed numerous instances of misuse and oversight gaps of the Lifeline Program, in particular the program’s free cell phone plan. Among finds in the report, GAO investigators found that $1.2 million in cell phone subsidies went to fake or deceased individuals, and more than 36% of cell phone program subscribers—1.2 million of 3.5 million—could not be verified. The ever-increasing fraud and ballooning cost to the taxpayer also puts a burden on cell phone service providers, driving up the costs for consumers and limiting the quality of service.
If Rep. Scott’s so worried about that missing $1.2 million, he should go and tell his boss to hold back on one of his dirt-patch missiles in Syria. Better yet, tell Trump to take off one weekend of golfing and Scott can have that missing million back—and then some. Arstechnica explains that while Rep. Scott and his crew are saying this is to protect consumers from having to pay taxes they shouldn’t have to pay, there’s nothing in this legislation that will actually save taxpayers money. Hey Peter, pay Paul!
Scott's bill is titled the "End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act," although Lifeline is funded by phone bill surcharges rather than taxes. The bill would not return those surcharges to consumers directly.
While the bill would prohibit mobile phone providers and mobile data providers from receiving Lifeline funds, it wouldn't change the amount of money that is collected from carriers in 2018. The bill says the excess collections that would no longer subsidize mobile service "shall be deposited in the general fund of the Treasury of the United States, for the sole purpose of deficit reduction." Taxpayer dollars are used to pay the national debt, so reducing the debt could benefit taxpayers.
Right-o. The Republican attack on subsidized broadband has been handled in the same fashion that their attacks on our voting, our food stamp programs, and on our health-care system. They tell their constituents that everything is “fraud” and that’s why consumers are getting hurt—not the deregulation of markets that allow non-competitive monopolies and duopolies to run amok.