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house Bill H.R. 3546

Should Federally-Subsidized Cell Phone Service be Eliminated?

Argument in favor

The Lifeline Program’s cell phone subsidies are rife with fraud and abuse, and taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot that bill. Subsidies for landlines would be unchanged by this.

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09/18/2017
This is not "Do people need cell phones?" Nor is it "Should the poor and elderly have access to phones?" If that's the question you're answering, you're missing the point. This is "Is it right for government to force some people to provide other people with phones?" That is objectively not a legitimate function of government. That's not what government is for. By all means, give of your own resources to help the poor obtain these modern conveniences, but this is not government's job. If government has any legitimate purpose it is to force people, under threat, ultimately threat of violence, to do that which they otherwise would not do. That's fine when you're forcing would-be murderers not to murder and would-be thieves not to steal and would-be fugitives from justice to face justice, but it's NOT okay to force people who wouldn't buy someone else a cell phone to buy them a cell phone. You don't have a right to a cell phone, and you certainly don't have a right to make someone else pay for your cell phone, and so government has no right to do that on your behalf. Again, this is not what government is for.
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09/19/2017
When did it become the governments responsibility to provide every little thing to its people? Much of the "Obama Phones" programs are abused and used by the same rejects and criminals many of us wanted stopped
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Jeanne's Opinion
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09/19/2017
I should not be paying for anyone's phone bill except my own.
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Argument opposed

This bill would undercut an important anti-poverty program that connects families to emergency services, children to educational opportunities, and parents to jobs.

Kodiwodi's Opinion
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09/18/2017
How on earth do you expect the poor to get help if they cannot have access to a cheap cellphone? You want the homeless to use their landline? You cannot deny the poor, the sick, and the elderly everything without literally taking responsibility for their deaths.
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Jeanne's Opinion
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09/18/2017
I wish Congress would pay this kind of attention to corporate, finance, congressional, asset forfeiture and "white collar" fraud, (instead of creating loopholes) and then we might have more funds to take of our citizenry who need it.
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Tina's Opinion
···
09/18/2017
This bill would undercut an important anti-poverty program that connects families to emergency services, children to educational opportunities, and parents to jobs.
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What is House Bill H.R. 3546?

This bill would prohibit commercial mobile phone service providers from receiving universal service support through the Lifeline program, which provides subsidies for discounts on monthly telephone or broadband service to qualifying low-income customers. For 2018, telecommunications carriers would have to contribute to the universal service fund based on support provided in 2017. Funds collected for mobile services would be required to be used on deficit reduction, while subsidies for landlines would continue.

Impact

Beneficiaries of the Lifeline Program’s cell phone subsidies; taxpayers; and the Federal Communications Commission.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 3546

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthSponsoring Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) introduced this bill to “end the Lifeline Program’s taxpayer subsidization of free cell phones while allowing landline service to continue for eligible participants”:

“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. 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.”

The National Consumer Law Center opposed this legislation’s predecessor during the last session of Congress, saying it “would undercut an essential anti-poverty program that connects families to emergency services, children to educational opportunities and parents to jobs.”

This legislation has the support of 18 cosponsors in the House, all of whom are Republicans.


Of NoteThe Lifeline Program was created in 1985 to provide access to telecommunications services to consumers, including low-income consumers, at just, reasonable, and affordable rates. It was expanded to include cell phone services in 2005. In 2017, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit found that Lifeline contains “weaknesses in several areas” that leave it at risk of fraud and abuse.

For example, the GAO “was unable to confirm whether about 1.2 million individuals of the 3.5 million it reviewed, or 36 percent, participated in a qualifying benefit program, such as Medicaid, as stated on their Lifeline enrollment application.” It also suggested that the $9 billion Universal Service Funds should be managed by the Dept. of the Treasury rather than keeping the assets in a private bank account.


Media:

Summary by Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: fizkes / iStock)

AKA

End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act of 2017

Official Title

To prohibit universal service support of commercial mobile service and commercial mobile data service through the Lifeline program.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Energy and Commerce
      Communications and Technology
    IntroducedJuly 28th, 2017
    This is not "Do people need cell phones?" Nor is it "Should the poor and elderly have access to phones?" If that's the question you're answering, you're missing the point. This is "Is it right for government to force some people to provide other people with phones?" That is objectively not a legitimate function of government. That's not what government is for. By all means, give of your own resources to help the poor obtain these modern conveniences, but this is not government's job. If government has any legitimate purpose it is to force people, under threat, ultimately threat of violence, to do that which they otherwise would not do. That's fine when you're forcing would-be murderers not to murder and would-be thieves not to steal and would-be fugitives from justice to face justice, but it's NOT okay to force people who wouldn't buy someone else a cell phone to buy them a cell phone. You don't have a right to a cell phone, and you certainly don't have a right to make someone else pay for your cell phone, and so government has no right to do that on your behalf. Again, this is not what government is for.
    Like (150)
    Follow
    Share
    How on earth do you expect the poor to get help if they cannot have access to a cheap cellphone? You want the homeless to use their landline? You cannot deny the poor, the sick, and the elderly everything without literally taking responsibility for their deaths.
    Like (209)
    Follow
    Share
    I wish Congress would pay this kind of attention to corporate, finance, congressional, asset forfeiture and "white collar" fraud, (instead of creating loopholes) and then we might have more funds to take of our citizenry who need it.
    Like (142)
    Follow
    Share
    This bill would undercut an important anti-poverty program that connects families to emergency services, children to educational opportunities, and parents to jobs.
    Like (100)
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    Share
    Please do the following: 1. Publicly define "Fraud" and "Abuse" as they relate to the cell phone program. 2. Quantify said Fraud and Abuse in the program. 3. If there is enough Fraud and Abuse occurring to be worth addressing, address it. Do not scrap the whole program as it provides an economic benefit to the country that outweighs its cost. 4. Any savings from eliminating "Fraud and Abuse" beyond what it costs to address should be used to pay down the national debt, not to provide a tax break for the rich or corporations.
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    My disabled parent received a phone through this program. She is in another state and lives completely on her SSDI check. Without this program, I would have no way to contact her. Many families are in this same situation. She could get the land line assistance, but why should the security of being able to contact someone for help only be available in the home. She is disabled and has to travel to many Dr appointments. Some of them are far away because the availability of doctors in rural areas is limited. If there is fraud and waste in a program, clean it up. Don't punish the people who legitimately need the help by eliminating it all together.
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    This would be more efficient than landlines, honestly, and according to this THOSE are still subsidized and not considered leeching by repubs. I wonder if it has something to do with the age base of those that almost exclusively still using landlines by choice overlapping with their voter base... cellphones, specifically ones with data plans, are a fantastic way to help make sure that everyone has intenet access. Wanna cut handouts, repubs? Cut the damn corporate welfare.
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    As a social worker who helps implement programs to get clients out of poverty, without a cell phone they could not contact me for assistance, emergency or to gain employment and participate in evidence based programs that, in the long run, will build independence and less tax burdens.
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    Land lines are completely outdated. Cell phones are necessary for emergency purposes and also to be able to get a job. If the federal government is currently subsidizing the services, they should continue to do so. If the state governments are currently subsidizing the services, they should continue to do so. Is this another great example of Trump trying to squeeze the budget? We should be squeezing corporations and the top 1% instead.
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    The program to subsidize cell phones is a wonderful program for so many people and truly contributes to improving the lives of many of our most needy (which is exactly what government should do.) As someone who has worked providing services to the poor for over 30 years I see the benefits of this service for those I work with on a daily basis. It will be devastating for so many if the program is eliminated. These phones provide safety for the elderly, disabled and children (who are not issued phones but need to reach their parents in emergency situations). These phones are how the elderly and disabled reach out for help and how families check on them. This service actually allows many elderly with limited income and resources to remain in their homes. (Yes, they could still have landlines, but they are not nearly as safe. Those who fall can't always reach their landline and some have even injured themselves rushing to get to their phones. Cell phones can be with them all the time.) They are how schools contact parents (and visa versa) and how potential employers contact applicants in need of a job. Additionally, more and more government services have moved away from face-to-face contact and paper applications toward online applications and phone interviews, so eliminating this service for the poor will also result in a loss of other needed services as well. Cell phones are essential lifelines in today's world. Surely everyone recognizes this. And isn't safety and providing essential basic services the real job of government? The GOP has once again chosen to try to strip services from the poor who need it most while favoring the wealthiest among us who lack for nothing. Unacceptable. Please keep this extremely worthwhile program in place by voting against HR 3546. I am confident Congress could come up with the money to pay for this vital service (and so many others) if they would be just a little bit less generous with corporate welfare and tax breaks for the 1%.
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    Seriously? This program allows people to get employment & for abused women/kids to start a new life on their own. How about looking at cutting Corporate welfare instead of lifelines of those in need.
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    Only those with money in their fat bank accounts and a cushy job not understand that the poor, the elderly and needy in this day in age also must have means of communication. We are talking about recycled phones with service provided at a discount to the government. I guess those that don't feel they should be provided means of communication also feel we need a damn wall on the southern borders. ...Just saying! Let's have a little compassion for our fellow man. Why is there so much intolerance? I respectfully ask that our representatives please vote to continue this service for our needy and senior Americans.
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    When did it become the governments responsibility to provide every little thing to its people? Much of the "Obama Phones" programs are abused and used by the same rejects and criminals many of us wanted stopped
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    I should not be paying for anyone's phone bill except my own.
    Like (21)
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    I have worked as a therapist in a facility where many of the clients were without incomes due to their illnesses. The subsidized cell phones, which provided limited minutes and service features, were absolute lifelines for people to schedule and maintain medical appointments, job interviews, connection with varied support services and family. It is well worth the tax dollars to provide a service to the poor that creates a ladder, a bridge, whatever metaphor you want to use to say that it keeps them healthy and part of society. Propose cutting corporate welfare and then you'll be onto something that's draining on our system.
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    In the first place, these are not "Obama phones." This program was started while George W Bush was President. In the second place, cell phones allow homeless and poor people to access assistance, apply for jobs, participate in educational applications, and on and on. I have no problem helping folks; it's a hand up, not a hand out.
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    We are not talking about fancy iPhones here. We are talking about a practical phone that can be a literal lifeline for the elderly and infirm, a way for people to call 911 in emergencies. This is not a huge expenditure, and it can be life and death for people.
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    Old people make up a large portion of those using and needing Lifeline subsidies. I am old. I need a cellphone not a landline because a cellphone goes with me where I go. If I fall when I'm out walking my dogs (as I have twice) I can call for help. I am hard of hearing and I can hear better on my cellphone with headphones that landmines don't have. My cellphone goes everywhere with me if I get in trouble I have it handy. I need a cellphone not a landline. I need Lifeline to cover cellphones.
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    It is not the governments job to do so. Cell phones have only been around for about 30 years. People do not NEED cell phones. I would be fine if there was a charity that provided this service but I don't want to be paying for this.
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    Another way to hurt the poor. No, do not end this program.
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