Obamaphone? Try ObamaInternet: Feds expand subsidy

By Cheryl Chumley

The Obamaphone subsidy has expanded to include Internet.
The Obamaphone subsidy has expanded to include Internet.

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to expand its long-running telephone subsidy program, dubbed the Obamaphone, to include Internet access for lower-income earners.

The vote was along party lines, with the majority in the Democratic camp.

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Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said those who are already food stamp or Medicaid recipients are eligible for the subsidy, and that it will help those who “are struggling to make ends meet,” US News reported.

The new program basically allows those who receive these federal entitlements the option to use their $9.25 per month Lifeline phone subsidy for stand-alone broadband service.

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And FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the new measure, while helping up to 64 million Americans, actually includes a new National Eligibility Verifier standard that inserts accountability into a program that’s been widely criticized for waste and abuse.

“This brings fiscal integrity to a program that has never had a budget,” he said, US News said.

The two Republicans on the commission favored a cap on the subsidy and when it wasn’t included, opted to vote against the expansion.

US News reported the expansion comes on the heels of pressure from President Obama to bridge the so-called “digital divide” that prevents lower-income Americans from obtaining home-based Internet service. Obama believes that challenge makes it harder for some to apply for jobs, work from home or educate their children.

Only about half of those making less than $25,000 a year have Internet at home, the FCC said.

The Lifeline subsidy was actually started before Obama’s presidency, as a means of ensuring low-income Americans had access to emergency response services in a timely manner. But it’s expanded greatly under this current White House, and critics have charged that financial irresponsibility has plagued the program for years.


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