We don’t like this at all. Not one little bit. Federal regulators are considering a revised regulation that could cut off cell phone service for the poor. And we hope you’ll help us stop them.
What’s at risk? The Lifeline and Link-Up programs. The Federal Communications Commission is considering changes to popular and successful Lifeline program.
Originally, Lifeline was intended to help consumers pay for conventional landline phones. But as mobile phones have become commonplace, the FCC has allowed low-income folks to use Lifeline funds for wireless service, too. Carriers who partner with Lifeline can offer eligible participants prepaid cell phones with 250 minutes of use per month.
The Press-Citizen explains the peril in which the program finds itself:
Earlier this year, the FCC expressed concerns over the growth of Lifeline. The agency floated the idea of capping the fund and earmarking any savings for pilot initiatives to expand broadband access. Such a move makes little sense. Capping the fund could cut off the phone service of scores of Americans when they need it most. After all, the recession has increased the population of folks who might turn to Lifeline for help. Between 2007 and 2009, almost five million more people dropped below the poverty line.
The agency has also explored the idea of charging customers for Lifeline service. Such a move would further burden low-income families laid low by the recession. Lifeline was designed to help low-income families stay connected. Erecting additional enrollment barriers defeats the purpose of the program.
In today’s era of tight budgets, the FCC and the carriers who participate in programs like Lifeline must weed out fraud and waste, both to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and preserve access for those who truly need it. To further these goals, the FCC has rightly proposed creating a database at either the federal or state level to help minimize the risks of fraud that understandably concern the FCC, telecommunications providers, and state regulators. But officials must also ensure that Lifeline can continue to expand access to phone service for the needy. Particularly in these uncertain economic times, they must tread carefully.
We’re 100% behind the FCC’s efforts to minimize fraud, but completely opposed to the other proposals.
Times are tough. Too many people are unemployed or underemployed. More people than ever need the Lifeline program.
Please contact your Congressional representatives and tell them that Lifeline should be expanded, not reduced. Tell them to stop the FCC’s shortsighted plan.