FCC Commissioner: We Were Told to Keep Quiet on Obamaphone Fraud Until After Vote to Expand Program

Posted: Apr 21, 2016 8:40 AM

Remember the Obamaphone, technically the Lifeline program, which subsidizes mobile service for low-income Americans? FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai is now speaking out about how he and other commissioners were told to keep quiet about a massive fraud investigation involving the program until the day after a controversial vote to expand the program. 

“On March 31st, the FCC -- on a party line vote -- voted to dramatically expand its program to cover Internet access in addition to phone service," Pai told Fox Business’ Stuart Varney. "However, about a month before that we were told about a very serious investigation involving a wireless carrier that defrauded the American taxpayers of millions upon millions of dollars. We’re also told that the investigation — we learned about this fraud back in October of 2014, that the investigation had wrapped up pretty much in the middle of 2015, but that we were not going to be on to say anything about it until April 1st at the very earliest, conveniently, one day after we voted on that party line vote to expand the program. And that was wrong.”

FCC spokesman Will Wiquist said the timing was purely coincidental, however, and “was in no way related to the timing of the vote on the program modernization.”

If true, Pai told Fox News “it’s one of the most remarkable coincidences I’ve ever come across in Washington.”

Pai also explained that Americans’ phone taxes have gone up 60 percent over the last seven years to finance this and other programs, “and that’s before the FCC expanded this program—there is no telling how high that tax is going to go in the future.”

He added, “It’s increasingly critical in the modern digital economy for all people, especially low-income Americans, rural Americans and others to have internet access. But the question is, how do we have a fiscally responsible program that gets us to that goal?  And this program we have on the table is not that. We are wasting millions upon millions of dollars on people who frankly don’t need the help in a lot of cases. And that kind of waste, fraud, and abuse has to end if there’s going to be bipartisan political support for this program in the future.”