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.
What is House Bill H.R. 3546?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 3546
In-Depth: Sponsoring 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 Note: The 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.
- Sponsoring Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) Press Release
- Ars Technica
- National Consumer Law Center (Opposed - Previous Version)
Summary by Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: fizkes / iStock)
End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act of 2017
To prohibit universal service support of commercial mobile service and commercial mobile data service through the Lifeline program.
- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
- The house has not voted
Communications and TechnologyCommittee on Energy and CommerceIntroducedJuly 28th, 2017
- house Committees