Sept. 24 (UPI) -- The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday accused telecom giant Sprint of accepting millions in federal subsidies to provide discounts it never passed on to low-income customers.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he asked the agency's enforcement bureau to launch an investigation "to determine the full extent of the problem and to propose an appropriate remedy."
Established in 1985, the Lifeline subsidy program has provided qualifying low-income Americans with a $9.25 per month subsidy toward phone service. The FCC expanded the program in 2015 to include broadband Internet, though to prevent a misuse of those taxpayer dollars, the subscribers may be dropped from the program if they don't use the service for 30 days.
Sprint allegedly accepted the subsidy for about 885,000 Lifeline subscribers who weren't using the service. The FCC said those subscribers represent nearly 30 percent of Sprint's Lifeline subscriber base and nearly 10 percent of all Lifeline subscribers.
"Lifeline is an important component of our efforts to bring digital opportunity to low-income Americans, and stopping waste, fraud, and abuse in the program has been a top priority of mine since I've been at the Commission," Pai said.
"It's outrageous that a company would claim millions of taxpayer dollars for doing nothing. This shows a careless disregard for program rules and American taxpayers."
The FCC said an inspector general report shows about 18.5 percent of payments made in the Lifeline program are improper.
Pai said the information came about as the result of an investigation by the Oregon Public Utility Commission.