The free phones handed out to the poor by Safelink Wireless, Assurance Wireless, Reachout Wireless and other smaller providers are supported by the $1.3 billion Lifeline/Link Up program, which is part of the federal $8 billion Universal Service Fund. The USF was created to ensure that every American has access to a basic telephone line. And as all who are reading this site know, a “basic telephone line” now includes mobile phones.
In the quest to reduce federal spending, lawmakers are looking for waste and fraud everywhere, including these programs. This month the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to conduct a study to find ways to bring more accountability to the $1.3 billion Lifeline/Link Up program.
The Kansas City Star phones in the details:
Among other things, the FCC will consider capping the size of Lifeline/Link Up. It will also explore creating a national database of users to validate eligibility and ensure that the program is only supporting one phone plan per household. In addition, the FCC wants to tap the program to subsidize high-speed Internet connections.
Last month, the agency voted to conduct a similar overhaul of the biggest Universal Service Fund program, the $4.3 billion High Cost fund, which pays phone companies that provide voice service in rural, sparsely populated places where phone lines are unprofitable.
The FCC also voted unanimously Thursday to launch a review of the federal rules that govern negotiations over the fees that cable, satellite and other subscription video services pay broadcasters to carry their signals in channel lineups. The commission’s actions follow a series of high-profile standoffs that left some consumers without their local stations when negotiations reached an impasse and broadcasters pulled their signals from pay-TV services. The FCC wants to minimize future TV signal blackouts.
But, just like the government, whose left hand doesn’t know what its right hand is doing, on the same day voted to look at ways it could expand the program with broadband and wireless access into Native American tribal lands.