Today, Public Knowledge joins a coalition of more than 30 consumer advocacy and civil rights groups in a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai and Commissioners Clyburn and O’Reilly urging them to support the Lifeline program.
Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai revoked the Lifeline Broadband Provider (LBP) status of nine broadband providers that had previously been granted LBP status to provide essential connectivity to low-income households under the Commission’s modernized Lifeline program.
Imagine you’re facing an emergency and you need a paramedic, fireman, or police officer, but don’t have a cellular phone available to call 9-1-1, or you do call 9-1-1 but don’t know or cannot communicate your location, and dispatcher cannot trace it. For many Americans this is a very frightening reality. Many low-income people cannot afford cell phones, and are unable to contact emergency services without a landline connection.
Members of Congress adding unnecessary policy language or amendments, known as “riders,” to government appropriations bills is nothing new; it is a well-known tactic for getting controversial policies passed. Appropriations bills provide funding to government agencies, so they must be passed by Congress in order to keep everything moving. Some members of Congress use this as a loophole to try to sneak in language or amendments that will hurt existing policies and agencies.
Much has been made of the political theatre that surrounded the FCC’s recent vote to modernize the decades-old Lifeline program. A minority on the Commission is pushing a narrative with all the appeal of a particularly wonky House of Cards episode (without the sex and murder): frantic negotiation, last-minute compromises, staff all-nighters, strong-armed negotiation tactics, improper outside influence, and interference from Capitol Hill, the works. All the while they bemoaned the loss of a bipartisan compromise that, they claim, would have brought meaningful reform to the Lifeline program.