Lifeline Revisited

by Charles C. W. Cooke

My National Review piece on the “Lifeline” program (no, it’s not called “Obamaphones,” nor did this president invent it) has been released from purgatory today and put up on the homepage. There’s an awful lot of nonsense spoken about Lifeline, but that much of the coverage is erroneous in no way alters the fact that Lifeline is a corrupt and undesirable alliance between a quasi-governmental slush fund and a bunch of self-interested businesses that have nothing but perverse incentives to ensure its inexorable growth. An excerpt:

Lifeline is run by a private non-profit organization called the Universal Service Administrative Company, which is overseen by the Federal Communications Commission — although I use “overseen” here loosely. Lifeline is a promising contender for the Worst Government Program in America. An FCC Audit in 2011 revealed that 400,000 of the program’s wireless subscribers illegally possessed more than one connection and that 41 percent of Lifeline’s cell-phone subscribers either were unable to demonstrate that they were eligible for the program, or, worse, had failed completely to respond to certification requests. This was hardly surprising given that, until 2011, the FCC allowed consumers to self-certify and did not see fit to require repeat customers to show that they remained eligible. Astonishingly, it took an inquiry ordered by Senator Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) for the FCC to confess that, 15 years in, they hadn’t yet got around to building a database. The private companies that provided the phones and the service, happy with the influx of business, apparently kept quiet.

Read the rest here.

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