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CRAMER: Legislation Ensures Lifeline Program Remains Under State Authority

Feb 16, 2017
Press Release

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Congressman Kevin Cramer and Senator Deb Fischer introduced legislation today in the House and Senate preventing fraud and abuse in the Lifeline Program.

The bill, the Preserving State Commission Oversight Act of 2017, amends the Communications Act of 1934 to protect a state public utility commission‘s role in policing and designating eligible telecommunications carriers for participation in in the Lifeline program. 

Since 1985, the Lifeline program has provided a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers through the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Universal Service Fund.  In 2005, Lifeline discounts were made available on pre-paid wireless service plans, in addition to traditional landline service.  Most recently, the Lifeline program has begun providing assistance for broadband access.

Last year, the FCC announced plans to remove state oversight of the program and replace it with a National Verifier program.  In June, Cramer, along with Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.), led a bipartisan, bicameral coalition of 25 Members of Congress in sending a letter to then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expressing concerns about these proposed changes.  The letter asks the FCC to consider the important role that states play in reducing waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program.

A bipartisan coalition of Public Service and Utility Commissioners in 37 states, including North Dakota, sent a letter to the FCC saying these changes “can only increase fraud and abuse of the Lifeline program, and can only undermine existing complementary State Lifeline programs.”

The Lifeline program, often referred to as “Obamaphone,” has been under intense scrutiny due to flexible eligibility requirements and abuse. In April 2016, the FCC issued a $51 million fine to a California-based company, Total Call Mobile, for signing up tens of thousands of ineligible Lifeline consumers and pocketing nearly $10 million in additional profits.

“In a program where waste and fraud have run rampant for years, removing the ability of states to police companies participating in the Lifeline program can only lead to further misuse of public funds,” said Cramer.  “The FCC doesn’t have the authority, the manpower, or the local knowledge to police the entire program at a national level.  That’s why the states are so important in maintaining the integrity of this program.”

Before becoming a member of the House of Representatives in 2013, Cramer served on the North Dakota Public Service Commission for 10 years. In Congress, Cramer is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FCC.