Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), argued the US regulator should not be responsible for approving which companies are allowed to offer subsidised telecoms services to poorer Americans, and put a halt on all pending applications.
In a statement, Pai (pictured) said he wanted to reform the Lifeline Program, which allows telecoms providers to offer affordable, high speed internet to the nation’s low-income families, and give the power of approval back to state governments.
Pai said the FCC “snatched” the legal responsibility away from states and decided to create its own federal “Lifeline Broadband Provider” in 2016, which it did not have the authority to do so.
As a result, Pai said he would not approve pending applications from companies wishing to join Lifeline, which amount to 36 companies according to Reuters. The chairman stated it would be “irresponsible” for the FCC to allow companies to sign up to offer subsidised broadband through an unlawful federal authorisation process.
Pai said the FCC would also ask courts to send back legal cases from 12 states, which have challenged the FCC’s right to approve companies to offer services in an appeals court.
According to FCC statistics, 3.5 million Americans receive subsidised broadband services through the Lifeline program from 259 eligible providers. In 2016, the FCC also voted to expand the telephone subsidy to include internet access, which costs users $9.25 a month.
Pai said he remained a supporter of the Lifeline Program, but Reuters reported there are suggestions his latest moves could be the first steps towards winding down the policy.
A group of US house democrats reportedly said the decision was an effort to “inflict death by a thousand cuts to Lifeline”, while FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn believes Pai’s stance will give low income Americans less choice for Lifeline, and increase the regulation and entry barriers faced by providers.