When someone in the Washington area begins to type the president’s last name into the search box of Google’s home page, the top three terms it suggests as the most popular selections are Obama, Obamacare and . . . Obama phone.

Obama phone? A hotline, maybe, to the Oval Office?

Hardly. “Obama phone” is the widely used — and misleading — nickname of a 28-year-old federal program known as Lifeline. It provides discounts, averaging $9.25 a month, on phone service for 13.3 million low-income subscribers.

In the 31 / 2 years after false rumors started that the Obama administration was giving free cellphones to poor people — and six months after a racially charged video about it went viral — a once-obscure phone service subsidy is getting renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

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