California is taking concrete steps to address its unemployment and poverty problems by offering more money to any free government cell phone company willing to do business in the state. But in return the state is requiring those companies to offer more to economically-challenged residents of the state.
Until now free government cell phone companies were paid $9.25 in federal funds per month per customer. California will now pay those companies an additional $6.35 to $13.15 per month for some customers.
We interpret this ruling as a tacit acknowledgement that cell phones can go a long way toward helping the state’s unemployed and underemployed contact potential employers and improve their chances in today’s tough job market.
LifelineLaw.com, experts in the arcane legal ins-and-outs of the free government cell phone business said, “In order to receive state LifeLine funds, carriers previously designated as ETCs in California must file with the PUC a “Tier II Advice Letter”, which is deemed approved after 30 days unless suspended by staff. Non-ETC wireless carriers must file a “Tier III Advice Letter”, which is subject to formal approval by the PUC. The Decision allows wireless carriers to elect to provide LifeLine service as federal-only ETCs. These carriers are not subject to the requirements of the Decision, but will not receive state funds. The Decision also does not require that carriers be designated as ETCs in order to participate in the California LifeLine program.”
Let’s explain that in English rather than legalese: Some Lifeline companies already doing business in California will be paid more money. The extra money will also be paid to new companies entering the California market. And, finally, companies that have heretofore been unable to do business in California will now be allowed to compete.
Here are some of the major changes for the Golden State’s Lifeline customers:
Instead of requiring companies to offer Lifeline customers 250 minutes per month, California LifeLine providers will now be required to offer customers a minimum of 501 minutes per month.
California will pay Lifeline companies an additional $6.25 per customer per month for plans that offer 501-to-999 minutes per month (that’s in addition to the $9.25 per customer per month they already receive).
California will pay Lifeline companies an additional $13.25 per customer per month for plans that offer 1,000+ minutes per month (that’s also in addition to the current $9.25 in federal funds).
Calls made to a company’s customer service department cannot be deducted from the customer’s monthly minutes. (We consider this to be a major issue considering the number of negative comments we receive from Lifeline customers.)
Another important issue revolves around handsets. The California PUC ruled thatLifeLine companies must offer LifeLine customers all handsets offered to non-LifeLine subscribers. We congratulate the PUC for including this seemingly insignificant point in its ruling. Too many Lifeline customers across the nation complain that their refurbished phones are (and we quote) “junk”. This ruling should go a long way toward solving that problem.
We expect these new regulations to have a major impact on the free government cell phone business across the country, because California is often a social and legal trendsetter. Where it leads, other states often follow.
And the best news of all is that the PUC is already looking at additional ways to strengthen and improve the Lifeline program for the state’s needy residents. Additional hearings have already been scheduled.