Calling the FCC’s COVID-19-related changes to its Lifeline broadband subsidy program “small steps” and “tweaks,” Some House Democrats are calling for bolder action.
In a letter Thursday (Aug. 13) to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, 15 members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which has principal jurisdiction over the FCC, urged him to use Lifeline funds to subsidize unlimited voice minutes and mobile data for Lifeline users for the duration of the pandemic.
Related: Groups Want Unlimited Talk, Text, for Lifeline Subs
“A strong response is critical given the supreme importance of connectivity while the country continues its efforts to combat the unprecedented and devastating COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote.
They also took issue with a recent draft rule proposal from Pai that would reduce the amount of mobile data subsidized by the program.
Saying he was cleaning up a mess made by the previous commission, Pai last month circulated a draft order that would cut the new minimum mobile broadband data capacity provided to low income residents by the Lifeline subsidy from 11.75 GB to 4.5 GB.
“Now more than ever, Americans need this Lifeline to support telework, telehealth, education, and other services offered online to keep individuals and our communities safe and healthy,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, your proposed rules seem to ignore the fact that coronavirus cases continue to rise, and the country has experienced nineteen consecutive weeks of over one million unemployment claims.”
The legislators pointed out that while the Lifeline program generally provides $9.25 per month in subsidies, after Hurricane Katrina, the FCC provided $130 to qualifying households for handsets and voice minutes “to help them get back on their feet.” They said that, “given the importance of connectivity and remote learning, working, and healthcare during the pandemic,” the FCC should similarly take “aggressive action” to help struggling Americans.
Singing on to the letter were Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA), and Reps Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Donald McEachin (D-VA), Darren Soto (D-FL), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA).
They asked for a response from Pai by Sept. 3.
Among the Lifeline “tweaks” the FCC has already made include extending Lifeline-related waivers on recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, usage, and income documentation and agreeing not to drop suspect subs.