Fifteen members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee urged FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to provide unlimited voice minutes and mobile data to Lifeline recipients, with a corresponding increase in the support amount to cover incremental costs, for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lifeline program helps low-income Americans afford phone or internet service.
During the ongoing pandemic, the Committee said the program must be boosted to accommodate new necessities. “While the FCC has taken some small steps since March to tweak the Lifeline program’s rules, much bolder action is necessary,” the Committee members wrote in a letter to Pai. “A strong response is critical given the supreme importance of connectivity while the country continues its efforts to combat the unprecedented and devastating COVID-19 pandemic.”
The letter was signed by the following Democrats: Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (PA), and Reps. Jerry McNerney (CA), Yvette Clarke (NY), Marc Veasey (TX), Donald McEachin (VA), Darren Soto (FL), Tom O’Halleran (AZ), Anna Eshoo (CA), Diana DeGette (CO), G.K. Butterfield (NC), Doris Matsui (CA), Peter Welch (VT), Ben Ray Luján (NM) and Tony Cárdenas (CA).
The FCC has previously expanded the Lifeline program’s benefits to help Americans stay connected after disasters. The Lifeline program typically provides $9.25 per month to qualifying households, but in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the FCC voted to provide $130 to qualifying households to receive handsets and voice minutes in order to help them get back on their feet. Given the importance of connectivity and remote learning, working, and healthcare during the pandemic, the Committee members believe that the FCC should follow past practices and take aggressive action.
The House passed the Heroes Act in May, which includes several provisions to ensure that Americans can afford the broadband internet service they need. The legislation would require the Lifeline program to provide unlimited voice and data minutes to Americans struggling during the pandemic.
“Regrettably, the Senate has yet to consider any meaningful action to assist low-income consumers in affording broadband during this pandemic,” the Committee members wrote. “It is, therefore, all the more critical that the FCC use all of its authorities to ensure that the American people have access to internet services at an affordable cost.”
The Committee members requested a response from Pai by September 3.