• Program's $9.25 monthly subsidy used to be only for telephone
  • Obama administration supported the change to expand broadband

U.S. regulators Thursday extended a subsidy used for telephone connections to broadband, expanding a program that spends more than $1 billion annually.

The Federal Communications Commission on a 3-2 vote decided poor people could use the $9.25 monthly subsidy under the Lifeline program for broadband. The program previously applied to voice service.

“I support today’s decision to modernize this program and update it to include broadband,” Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the agency’s Democratic majority, said in a statement distributed before the agency’s vote.

The administration of President Barack Obama supported the change as part of its efforts to expand the availability of broadband. In a March 9 statement, the White House said the proposal “would give the 12 million households currently using the subsidy for phone service immediate help paying their monthly broadband bill.”

The White House said the program spends $1.5 billion yearly. The FCC last year said Lifeline spent $1.6 billion in 2014.

Republican members of the FCC have warned about the program’s cost. “What is the rationale to justify increasing spending” by $750 million, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in a March 8 statement distributed by e-mail.

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