Republicans and Internet providers are united in their hatred of the Federal Communications Commission's new net neutrality rules. But the FCC is winning some rare praise from telecom companies for its most recent proposal: government subsidies for Internet access.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced last week that he plans to help low-income Americans get online by expanding his agency's Lifeline program, which currently only covers phone service. Conservatives often mockingly refer to Lifeline as the "Obamaphone" program (even though it was created during the Reagan administration).
"We believe the Lifeline program could, and should, support broadband service," Jim Cicconi, the top lobbyist for AT&T, wrote in a blog post Monday. "We ought to trust eligible consumers to choose which benefit, voice, data, or a combination of both, best meets their needs."
Although cellular companies already can get Lifeline funding for basic phone service, it doesn't cover smartphone data plans.
The Senate Commerce Committee's subcommittee on communications will hold a hearing Tuesday to examine the program. Scott Bergmann, the vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA, a cellular industry lobbying group, will testify that his association is "committed to this evolution" to subsidizing Internet service. He will also urge the FCC not to cap the size of the program, saying that a strict budget would be "counterproductive" for helping people get online.