Since 1985, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has operated the Lifelines program to provide subsidized phone service to low-income Americans. In 2005, the program expanded to cover basic voice-only mobile phone plans, and in March 2016, the FCC voted to expand the program to include internet service (including mobile data).
This bill seeks to remove wireless voice and data services from the list of eligible Lifelines services. Sponsoring Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) argues that the program is already too expensive and that the FCC does not do a sufficient job preventing fraud and misuse.
The FCC, however, believes cell phone and internet access are modern-day necessities that help people pursue education, access services, and maintain connections with friends and families. According to a press release from the FCC announcing the program expansion, 43 percent of America’s lowest income households cannot afford broadband. This gap in access can contribute to greater income inequality.