WASHINGTON — On Tuesday night, the House of Representatives voted down legislation aimed at cutting off subsidies to a program that helps low-income families subscribe to essential communications services. The End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act, introduced by Georgia Republican Austin Scott, would have cut off Lifeline funding for all mobile broadband and voice services for households that qualify.
Soon after that vote, House Republicans dropped their plans for language in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill that would have capped funding for all of Lifeline. The appropriations bill is scheduled for a vote later today, without this Lifeline cap but with several other bad riders intact.
Established in 1985 to subsidize basic phone service for low-income households and promote universal communications service, the Lifeline program was modified by the FCC earlier this year to also reduce the monthly cost of wired and mobile broadband.
Free Press Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood made the following statement:
“Representative Paul Ryan’s war on the poor hit a snag yesterday when two pieces of legislation designed to deprive people of affordable communications went down in flames. House Republicans rushed one bill — designed to strip federal Lifeline support for all wireless services — straight to the floor using a procedural loophole. They lost that, then shelved the second measure even before voting on it, as they quickly pulled language buried in a budget bill to cut off funding for tens of millions of potential recipients.
“The party that controls Congress seems dead-set on killing Lifeline, though it was initiated under President Reagan and greatly expanded under President George W. Bush. Making sure that everyone has affordable access to communications networks is just as important as ever for our economy and our democracy. People need these tools to stay connected to their families, their schools and their jobs. They use these connections as a literal lifeline to dial 911 and call for help in times of emergency.
“People on the wrong side of a persistent digital divide are the real victims of congressional dysfunction here. House Republicans consistently take aim at needy families, seniors with limited budgets and low-income individuals in communities of color and rural areas. That’s why it was so important for social justice groups, civil rights organizations, consumer advocates and the wireless industry to band together to defeat this ideological attack on the most disadvantaged among us.
“Yet even with these two decisive victories on Lifeline, there’s no guarantee that House Republicans won’t come after the program again. And the appropriations bill on the House floor today is still loaded with attacks on people’s communications rights. Congressional leaders are hell-bent on rolling back the FCC’s successful Net Neutrality rules, preventing the agency’s broadband privacy proposal from moving forward, and stalling the agency’s cable-box reforms. In all three cases, the FCC is following the pro-consumer and competition laws that Congress passed on an overwhelming bipartisan basis. But members like Paul Ryan, Greg Walden and Marsha Blackburn will use any trick they can to let cable companies discriminate, price-gouge and exploit people’s most private information.”