Rep. Austin Scott Introduces Legislation to End Obama-Era Free Cell Phone Program

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Monday, July 31st, 2017

U.S. Representative Austin Scott (GA-08) introduced the End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act (H.R. 3546), which would end the Lifeline Program’s taxpayer subsidization of free cell phones while allowing landline service to continue for eligible participants.
“Hardworking American taxpayers are already overburdened and should not be forced to pay for a program that has vastly expanded beyond its intended scope and is riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse,” said Rep. Scott. “My bill will reform the Lifeline Program and restore it to its original purpose of providing landline services and prohibit Universal Service support for mobile services. In order to promote government accountability, cut government fraud and waste, and protect consumers from further increases to their phone bills, the Lifeline Program’s free cell phone plans should end.”
The Lifeline Program, which was created in 1985 and is administered by the Federal Communications Commission, was created under the Federal Universal Service fund to advance the FCC’s statutorily mandated goals of providing access to telecommunications services to consumers, including low income consumers, at just, reasonable, and affordable rates. In 2005 the program was expanded to include cell phone services. Today’s bill would end the subsidized cell phone option, leaving in place Lifeline’s original purpose to provide landline services to Americans.
On June 29, 2017, the Government Accountability Office released a report which detailed numerous instances of misuse and oversight gaps of the Lifeline Program, in particular the program’s free cell phone plan. Among finds in the report, GAO investigators found that $1.2 million in cell phone subsidies went to fake or deceased individuals, and more than 36% of cell phone program subscribers—1.2 million of 3.5 million—could not be verified. The ever-increasing fraud and ballooning cost to the taxpayer also puts a burden on cell phone service providers, driving up the costs for consumers and limiting the quality of service.
Original co-sponsors of the End Taxpayer Funded Cell Phones Act include Representatives Rick Allen (GA-12), Brian Babin (TX-36), Dave Brat (VA-07), Bradley Byrne (AL-01), Steve Chabot (OH-01), Paul Cook (CA-08), Neal Dunn (FL-2), Drew Ferguson (GA-03), Bill Flores (TX-17), Jody Hice (GA-10), Lynn Jenkins (KS-02), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Tom McClintock (CA-04), Ralph Norman (SC-05), Bill Posey (FL-08), Tom Rice (SC-07), Brad Wenstrup (OH-02), and Rick Crawford (AR-01).