A group of Democratic senators slammed the head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday over his proposal to cut down on a program that helps make broadband and phone service more affordable for low-income households.
The senators’ letter targets a proposal introduced by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in November that would significantly curb the scope of benefits from the Lifeline program, which roughly 6.5 million people in poor communities rely on to get access to high-speed internet. Eight million people are eligible for the subsidy program.
“It is your obligation to the American public, as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to improve the Lifeline program and ensure that more Americans can afford access, and have means of access, to broadband and phone service,” a group of senators wrote in the letter, which was spearheaded by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
“Your proposal accomplishes the exact opposite — it takes resources out of the hands of the most vulnerable Americans,” they wrote.
Other signatories to the letter were Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
The senators noted that Pai’s plan to curb Lifeline would disproportionately hurt families, veterans and people of color. In November, 56 Democrats in the House led by Reps. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) attacked Pai’s plan, citing similar concerns.
Pai wants to push jurisdiction of the program to states, which he believes will curb “waste, fraud, and abuse that continue to plague the Lifeline program.”
Democrats and other critics worry that states handling the Lifeline program will significantly weaken it.
In their letter on Thursday, senators also pressed Pai for answers about his plans for Lifeline, including information on how many individuals will ultimately lose access to internet because of the plan and what the agency’s alternative plan is to help Americans living on tribal reservations, rural Americans, veterans, the elderly and low-income individuals.
“Instead of cutting the program, we should ensure Lifeline reaches more Americans in need of access to communication services,” they wrote.