tv The Communicators CSPAN March 19, 2016 6:30pm-7:01pm EDT
this comes from the notion that ,aving everyone on the network having access to public safety, each other, and commerce is incredibly important, and for low income persons, making sure that they had the additional support to do that was necessary, so that's why the program began. and how many people -- chairman wheeler: and how many people participate in this program? the past year, about $13 million. >> what is the cost? amina: a $9.25 subsidy per household. it is a relatively minimal subsidy. the costs have gone down over the past few years. in terms of the overall cost for the lifeline program. is specifically
for wired phones? or is it now wireless as well? like i said, during the reagan administration, the telephone voice subsidies began, and after the bush administration they introduced wireless. today, there is wired and wireless voice available within the program. >> daniel, has it been successful in your view? it's not clearly successful, and i think that's one of the problems that exists with the program now. born as a political compromise between the carriers and the fcc when the government broke up the at&t monopoly. , we arethe concern was going to establish this amount that we will give to low income consumers with the goal of making sure that low income consumers can get access to telephone service, but no one
had really done a study to figure out whether the amount we are getting is actually going towards people who would otherwise not fall off the telik medications bid -- telecommunications bid. a report was issued last year that criticized the fcc for this. there is bipartisan support for incomea that low households should have some assistance to make sure they are not falling off the grid and make sure they can have the latest telecommunications systems. the concern is whether lifeline is actually achieving that. when questioned whether it was successful, the fcc pointed to a third-party report that suggested it might be as much as 80% of lifeline dollars going to households that would have telephone service even without the subsidy. host: how is it funded? daniel: it is funded by the --verse service charge universal service charge, the
monthly tax on your landline bill. the way it is kind related is that the fcc estimates how much it will need per year and then divides it -- the way it is calculated is that the asset -- is that the fcc estimates how much it will need per year, and then it is divided to get the percentage. host: amina, has it been successful in your view? hasa: i think the program been successful. i agree that it would be better for the fcc to take steps to understand the population better and understand the impact of the program, and not have to rely on third-party reports. program wasnk the successful. i would like to step back just for a moment for us to understand who we are talking about in terms of who the users are. lifeline program is restricted to folks who are at
about 135% of the poverty line or lower, so for a family of four in the contiguous 48, that is about $32,000 a year. if you live in a city like des moines, it's not san francisco, it's not new york, it cost about $53,000 a year to meet your average expenses for a family of four. so they are definitely well below what they need per year, in terms of income. there are times when they are going to make decisions like, should i pay the phone bill, or should i get food? should i get food, or should i get medicine? --ks dufault on and off fall on and off. i things understand today that broadband and telephone service is incredibly important. so people try to make that work
because it is a necessary tool for their lives. but when you are looking at the numbers, it is really difficult to even conceive of how these families are going to be able to meet their needs and stay on a high cost subscriber program, broadbandam -- like or telephone service, without the support. theink that understanding struggles these families are facing, lifeline has done a great job at providing the support that is going to be there for them continuously. host: the fcc in their march meeting will be talking about the "lifeline" program, and ticket perspective, let's bring brendan sasso from the national journal into this conversation. to provide the context, the fcc is set to vote later this month on some big changes for
lifeline programs, the biggest change that they will include broadband internet service so people can use that $9.85 a month subsidy not just for cell phone or landline, but for internet access, either at home or in a data package for their cell phone. my question is whether you both think the $9.25 is enough. most people, it costs a lot more than that to get a broadband connection or a data plan for a family, so is it enough to encourage people to adopt broadband if they wouldn't otherwise? amina: i think that it is a good first step, and i think the fcc will be making a lot of changes to this program and moving in a deliberate fashion makes sense. there are programs that are out currently that are not a part of usf that are available to low income families that are coming in right around that $10 mark.
there are a lot of other costs that are required for people to access the internet, so you are going to have to have a device, potentially training and support, and there are programs out there who support low income families so they had access to all those pieces. good place tois a start, but i think it has to be seen whether or not it will be enough going forward. a sense that is the fcc is putting a carpet on a horse, because they have not done a real study at. -- real study yet. we don't know if we need nine dollars a month for 10 million people or not. we need to make sure we are deploying the money intelligently and effectively, and the fcc simply has not done that level of analysis.
we have had a series of broadband trials that the fcc adopted in 2012, and the goal was to try to provide some data, but unfortunately they were not conclusive, not designed in a that had measurable output results, and the sample sizes were too small. one thing i did -- i think we did learn from the trials is that $9.25 a month is probably too low. and getting a nine dollar discount for broadband will not be enough to incentivize people to make that a part of their budget. one thing interesting i think about the fcc's proposal is that it would phase out support for mobile voice only. there may be elderly people who andt want to get broadband like the idea of free cell phone service right now. is there the concern that those
people will potentially not be supported under the program anymore? looks as of right now, it like a three-year phaseout, and there is definitely concern as to how this consumer population is going to shift from having a product that was focused on that, and now a product might have some component of , as well as some component of data, or a different device completely. from a future phone to a smart phone. it is going to take, i think, a careful approach by the fcc to transition is folks -- olks, but wehose fulk > want to establish the tradition that everybody has access to broadband, so i think it is difficult. the fcc wants to encourage the monetization of the program, and they definitely don't want people to be left behind, because they are not quite ready for that.
in a sense, is this a backdoor reform of the universal service fund? is one step among many that the fcc has taken over the years to try to transition to the universal service fund from a television-based program to it brought bone -- a telephone-based program to a broadband-based program. funds toa high cost help cover carriers who provide service in places where there is not a lot of people, and the fcc transitioned that slowly to broadband as well. but the problem with taking the old telephone system and simply moving that to broadband is that we replicate some of the difficulties we had in the old system. i think it makes more sense for the fcc to rethink this from ground zero, rather than have an evolutionary change of lifeline or universal service, to think from the ground up, if i was starting at zero and was redesigning the system today to provide broadband support, how would i do it? host: and how would you do it? daniel: with regard to lifeline
in particular, i think what makes sense is a voucher system, of directthat is importance, the language president obama recently used. sense forkes a lot of the fcc to figure out what the drivers are of low broadband adoption. .ot like telephone service it's not just the monthly fee that is the problem. you can have free broadband, but if you don't have a computer, that's problematic. i think the holistic approach would involve not just a subsidy , but also some type of equipment subsidy to get computers in the hands of eligible recipients. also, some kind of digital outreach. when we get a survey as to why people are not broadband, a lot of people have said they don't feel they need to be on the internet. there is going to be some group of people that will never adopt it at any price, but for those that simply don't appreciate what you can get with a
broadband subscription, and digital literacy outreach is an integral component. these are things i would fund. host: and you would fund it out? daniel: rather than use the universal service fund mechanism, which is problematic because until recently, there was not a cap to the budget on the program, and b, it is close toxponentially, the tax they put on hotels for suckers who are coming out of town. rather than fund it that way, i think it should be a line item in the federal budget, something subject to congressional oversight that has a hard cap that focuses -- that forces the program to figure out how to use resources more efficiently to get people on the program. it, move, dare i say
it out of the fcc, and maybe another agency that has a better understanding of poverty. the universal service fund has cap -- has focused more on the needs of carriers and consumers. host: amina, as the usf worked in your view? amina: i think it has worked for many years now. i think there has been a crossroads. we are going to have to consider how we contribute to that program as more consumers migrate from traditional telephone service and voice service, the traditional base of where the usf dollars come from, and go to broadband and voice over ip and start to migrate to other services. that is going to be considered, and i think that is the next step for the fcc.
had seen eache piece of the usf fund get upgraded and modernized. whichan with high costs, turned to the connect america fund to be focused on broadband. i think that was the right step to take. i think the laws written around usf are flexible enough to allow for these changes to occur, so they are actually taking the initiative to make that happen. we saw the upgrade of eerie. when we saw the president come out with connect dead to support -- connect-ed to support the steps the fcc was taking. thethey also pushed department of education as well as the fcc.
it was not just this one step process where we hope that we can do it all. we understand the limitations, so now we are looking at lifeline. lifeline i think is very focused subsidy for service. it is not going to be a program that provides us with equipment or additional training. while these aspects are really important, the fcc may not be to do all of those things in one setting, and lifeline is definitely not the program that is going to be able to handle all those pieces. i think what we have seen with the connect all initiative from the white house is acknowledgment, that this is going to take many aspects of government working together to be able to actually close these gaps. brendan: you had mentioned whether to expand broadband
under what is contributing to i am wondering if you are increasing the costs for people to get broadband. also, this issue can be confusing to many viewers. tax onacks -- would a the internet be something the sec -- the fcc would be hesitant about doing? amina: i think reform is long overdue, and the fcc is already looking into that, and there is a report that is supposed to be released on an assessment of this particular issue. is -- everyone who works on social service fund issues is aware this is coming. i think it will be tricky. it will be a big shift. shift for be a big what the program can do, if the reform doesn't actually change much.
i think it will be a tricky issue for the fcc to tackle. add meat to that skeleton, they finally -- the primary issue if the -- skeleton, the the primary issue with that is the only base the fcc can be attached to is currently under state and national telephone charges, long-distance. is, not a lot of people are making long-distance calls anymore, so the base you on is shrinking. at the same time, lifeline and the high cost of these other programs are growing, so when you have a growing numerator and a shrieking denominator, you end up with a larger fraction. one solution might be to ultimately increase the base to add the tax not just long-distance phone revenue, but also your monthly internet charge. that is potentially on the table now that the fcc has aslassified internet access
telecommunications, but it is politically difficult because when the fcc made the controversial move to reclassified internet, they made the process that they will not tax the internet. so if the fcc goes this route, they will have to thread the needle to argue that universal service line charges are not a , and theythe statute support the consequences of doing so. host: why is this happening now in? daniel: i think it is happening because more and more of our life is migrating online. the industry itself is looking at sunsetting the traditional telephone network over the next five to 10 years, so there is a programs used the
to support telephone access probably need to be upgraded. we are moving to a world where you don't have a dedicated telephone network, but rather voice services, one of many things carried over the internet now, and that is the network of the 21st century. we need to worry about the same issues of access to the network as we did back in the 20th century. are the isps and telecoms supporting this proposal? amina: yeah, there is an interesting combination of folks that supposed -- that support lifeline modernization. low income advocates, but also industry. that has been heartening to see. i think everyone across the board understands the importance of broadband and supports the modernization of the program, so i think the differences are in the details and how you approach it. but i do want to step back for a moment to sort of think about the it means to dismantle
usf program completely, or to new, instead of trying to monetize lifeline, going a congressional route. i think low-income consumers need access to broadband now. it is unclear to me that congress would be able to pass support directly aimed at low-income users. this congress has not been particularly supportive of folks who are in poverty. the conversations that have been been hard toave decipher. sometimes it appears they are supportive of initiatives like broadband for low income folks, but simultaneously, if there is ever a conversation about
orditional support like snap any other subsidy that the federal government provides, there is a lot of pushback, and the word "entitlements" i think is fraught on the hill. the idea that we would be able evelop a brand-new program that would provide support as well as a cost subsidy, i think it is hopeful and wishful thinking, but i don't know that we have actually got the votes in congress to do something like that. low income folks need access now. modernizing lifeline is a step towards that, and gets us closer to that goal today. i guess the law professor in me suggests that the problem with the universal service fund is if it came before congress, congress would vote it down. i think that is the problem with
the program as far as its support by the american people. the universal service fund has been operating as a hidden tax, because it is off budget, self-sustaining, and arguments by people like me that need to move it on budget are met with -- but if we actually a knowledge the costs, people will vote it down. i think that suggests something about the existence of the program itself. that said, i think this is an issue you can get bipartisan approval for. far up in the ivory tower. but it seems to me that it makes more sense to reform -- if we are going to do this, and the wesident said we need to, need to either do it the right way or the wrong way, and it seems to me that a of approach -- that a comprehensive approach would be a driver and much more
than throwing it at broadband providers without any sense whether it will work or not. brendan: let me talk a bit about getting the cable companies to participate in this, because it seems like a big question, whether companies like comcast where in many areas of the country they might be the only home broadband option available, so it seems unclear whether or not they will participate stop -- participate. do you believe that the proposal as crafted by chairman wheeler would get them involved? amina: right now, the proposal is taking steps to introduce new providers into the program. providers who are not currently eligible telecom carriers, they are looking to streamlining that process and making the program more open to traditional broadband carriers like cable,
and i think that is a really great step forward. if you are going to focus lifeline on broadband, then you are going to need the providers who are primarily providing broadband, and i think that there has been a lot of attention paid to how to bring in these providers to the lifeline program, in a way that consumers -- in a way that ensures consumers are still getting treated fairly and have access to a substantial service. daniel: at least one cable provider is sort of in this business already. as a result of a condition with comcast-nbc nbc -- merger, there has been a program for familiesadband with children on the school lunch program. there are conditions to get on the program, and there is debate on how successful it has been, but it is out there and at least one company has supported it, so it provides a model to figure out how we might successfully roll us out to cable broadband as well.
what is the pushback from the fcc from the republican commissioners? daniel: part of it is justifying the figures we are throwing out now. as i understand it, the proposal has added budget to lifeline, but to increase in 15%. i think it is 1.5 billion, or what -- 1.5 sit -- i think they are proposing $2.2 billion going forward. it is not clear what is driving the 50%, whether than 25% or whatever, and it is not clear what will happen if the fcc had sacral. is it asoft budget -- soft budget, or something we should aspire to? it once we have the reform, means that the universal service fund numerator will grow, and so
the surcharge is likely to grow as well. brendan: this program has been criticized by people in both parties for a lot of waste and fraud, and the fcc is taking steps to bring that end. program, it has become sort of politically you saideven though as it started in the reagan administration. are the steps the fcc has taken enough to try to combat the weight in it? and the proposal going out this month also has new measures to clamp down on the fraud. amina: yeah, the program, we were a part of the reforms a few years ago. very focused on fraud, waste, and abuse, so it really high to -- a really heightened the program up with the inclusion of wireless voice. i think that is one of the biggest drivers. part of it was consumer usage.
there is a proper hilarity -- a popularity to wireless voice, as well as a usefulness, within a low income population who may be renters, who may be in homeless shelters, having that kind of i think is critical, so there is an uptake in the program that could be given to just having a useful service. with that said, the fcc thought preserve theant to integrity of the program by instituting a number of reforms, so they put in a duplicate database will stop they also put in -- duplicate database. they also put in a task force to address any kind of issues around fraud, waste, and abuse in terms of enforcement. changes,y put in those there has been a significant amount of savings that the program has seen since these changes have been put in place. in addition to doing that, the
fcc is now proposing a third-party administer to do eligibility for the program. the reason this is so important is because there have been unscrupulous providers who have been left with the job of confirming eligibility for the and they are the main source of some of the extent of fraud, waste, and abuse that have occurred. rolemoving the eligibility away from the hands of providers, two things occur. biggest address the driver of fraud, waste, and that, and two, you ensure new providers into the program have less of an administrative burden. so there is a one-stop shop. neither party a ministry to will handle all eligibility. -- awill take time
third-party will administer all of the eligibility. will helphing that move the program in the right direction in terms of efficiency is minimum standards, ensuring fcc's lifeline dollars are being used for substantial service. in part, the minimum standards we are seeing come out around wireless voice are trained to address these issues, making sure lifeline consumers are getting access to a substantial service they can actually use, that they can use in a way that will be comfortable, that they are not worried will run out before the end of the month, and that they will have to hold onto a handful of minutes to have access to emergency services. all those changes
combined will put the lifeline program in the right footing. host: >> i think the fcc's intent is a good one. making sure that lower people of income do not fall off the great is important. -- do not fall off the grid is important. we need to think how we carry out these programs into the 21st century. host: what is the benton foundation? >> it is an operating foundation that focuses on health communication success. >> thank you all. >> thank you. >> former house intelligence committee pete hoekstra recently wrote a book about obama administration foreign-policy and the events leading to the 2012