Lifeline Program Gets Some Major Attention

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“We are concerned that the risks to program integrity outlined in this report threaten a service that is essential to ensuring that low-income Americans can connect to employment opportunities, family members, and emergency services.”

This quote is from a letter to FCC Chairman Pai and Acting USAC CEO/General Counsel Vicki Robinson, from Democrat Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. The referenced report is from a recent GAO study that found waste, abuse and fraud in the Lifeline program, and pointed to recurring failures of evaluation and oversight which threatened the ability of the program to serve its intended purpose.

Chairman Pai issued a detailed response, including FCC efforts and actions to measure the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement mechanisms; training and guidance of ETCs and sales agents; ETC compliance plans; USAC and FCC oversight of third party entities contracted by ETCs to determine program eligibility; and details concerning implementation of the National Verifier system.

In addition, the GAO report prompted the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology to schedule a hearing on September 6, “Addressing the Risk of Waste, Fraud and Abuse in the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline Program.” Not to be outdone, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will hold its own hearing on the controversial subject, on September 14, to consider “The FCC’s Lifeline Program: A Case Study on Government Waste and Mismanagement.”

We now have, at a minimum, the FCC, USAC and two Senate Committees involved in this brouhaha. But given the well-documented and publicized abuses in the cell phone portion of the lifeline program, this flurry of activity seems well warranted, albeit several years late.

We will follow the upcoming hearings and any other developments in this area, and keep you posted.