Low-income consumers may be set to have essentially free, taxpayer-subsidized Internet service, similar to the notorious Obamaphone, following the federal government’s takeover of the web.
All three democrat members of the Federal Communications Commission have openly announced intentions to provide broadband Internet subsidies for the poor through the government’s Lifeline Assistance Program, started under President Ronald Reagan more than 30 years ago.
Lifeline, originally intended to help the poor attain landline phones, eventually morphed with the times to provide prepaid wireless service (Obamaphones) and now seems destined for Internet reform.
“I have… been vocal about my call to modernize the Lifeline program, which has been stuck in an MC Hammer, parachute-pants time warp since 1985,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn argued in the FCC’s 400-page order.
The program currently provides a monthly phone bill subsidy of $9.25, which often covers entire bills, but Clyburn’s proposal would allow consumers to choose whether to apply the discount on their phone or their internet service.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel have similarly supported Lifeline restructuring.
Republicans are reluctant to reform, however, arguing that tacking on additional subsidies would likely exacerbate problems in a program already fraught with instances of fraud, waste and abuse.
“The Commission has taken important steps to rein in program excesses, including by requiring annual eligibility re-certifications and instituting a database (the NLAD) to screen for duplicate subsidies. However, it appears that abuses are continuing,” said Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly last month, outlining steps he believes would help protect taxpayers.
Additionally, “The money for Lifeline comes from government fees on consumers’ monthly phone bills,” reports the National Journal, adding to Republicans’ skeptism.
Lifeline restructuring will lead to tax increases across the board, says FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who claims the FCC’s latest move “imposes intrusive government regulations that won’t work to solve a problem that doesn’t exist using legal authority the FCC doesn’t have…”
“Indeed, it’s been publicly reported that the FCC is itching to use the Universal Service Fund to extend the Lifeline program to broadband. That won’t come cheap,” Pai said in his dissent to the FCC’s new Internet regulations. “In order to provide discounted broadband service to millions of Americans, the FCC will have to find the money somewhere. With this Order, that somewhere is your wallet. So when it comes to broadband, read my lips: More new taxes are coming. It’s just a matter of when.”
Just as the “Obamaphone” program left middle-class Americans on the hook for low-income consumers’ entire phone bills, it can be assumed that another round of public fleecing is in order to construct the so-called “free internet.”