First Obama Phones – Now Obama Web

smartphonesThis week the FCC will review and perhaps vote on a proposal to expand the “Lifeline” telephone subsidy program to include entitlements for broadband internet services for the poor.

The Lifeline program was authorized by Congress with good intentions in 1985.   It provided subsidies for land-line telephone service to the poor, on the theory that a telephone is necessary to maintain basic health and safety.  The program, funded by federally mandated surcharges on consumer telephone bills, flew under the radar until 2005 when it was expanded to include cell phone service.  The subsequent rapid growth and explosion of fraud and abuse in the program drew considerable attention as free cell phones, derisively dubbed “Obama Phones”, were widely distributed – even unscrupulously collected and resold – with little qualification or oversight.

The program cost $1.4 billion in 2014.

To test the veracity of reports that virtually anybody could apply for and receive an “Obama Phone”, I filled out an online application (honestly) and hit “enter”.  Four days later I had a new cell phone, complete with 250 minutes of cellular service per month and unlimited texts.  It’s mine to use, apparently forever, no questions asked.  And I don’t think anybody would consider me the slightest bit “needy”.

In 2012, pushed by congressional oversight, the FCC attempted to assert some discipline in the program.  While costs were somewhat reduced, the rampant fraud continues, according to FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly.  He wants to see the Lifeline program cleaned up before any consideration is given to expanding the entitlement.  O’Rielly would:

  • Set a budget for the Lifeline program – it currently has no limits on spending
  • Disallow any increase in the reimbursement rate paid to providers for adding broadband services
  • Limit the services covered under the program
  • Offer subsidies to only those who really need it – a survey indicated 19 out of 20 Lifeline users would have their own smart phones even if the program didn’t exist
  • Require participants to have “skin in the game” – no more completely free phones

Senator David Vitter (R-LA) wrote a scorching letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, calling the program, “. . . one of the most abused and fraud-ridden federal programs ever.”  He excoriated Wheeler for denying the Office of the Inspector General the authority to investigate.

After decades of relative obscurity, the FCC, under Wheeler, is grabbing headlines with regularity this year.  Their new “Net Neutrality” rules took effect last week, making internet service providers regulated utilities like phone companies, and preventing them from charging higher rates to high volume customers.  Congress has vowed to undo the new provisions and might even cut the FCC’s budget.

Some view the FCC’s move to expand the Lifeline program as a natural and timely adjustment to rapid change in communication technology.  Others say it is just one more entitlement – payback and pay-forward for the political support of a growing segment of government-dependent voters.

This article can be seen in its entirety at Watchdog Arena.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

I’m free to choose what I please any old time
I’m free to choose what I please any old time
So hold me, love me, love me, hold me
I’m free any old time to get what I want, yes I am

I’m Free – the Rolling Stones

Here’s a nice and kind of obscure tune by the Stones – enjoy!

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