Millions of people find their Lifeline Assistance free government cell phones to be tremendously helpful. They use them every day to apply for jobs, to communicate with doctors, and to keep in touch with children and parents.
But the government says that if you don’t use it, you lose it. And the FCC recently confirmed that it will de-enroll any Lifeline participant who doesn’t use his or her free government cell phone for 60 consecutive days or more.
The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau just released an Order (don’t you love the way the government uses capital letters to emphasize the importance of words that would go uncapitalized in any ordinary document) in an attempt to clarify usage rules for Lifeline participants. The Order (with a capital O) puts users of inactive accounts on notice.
The new “use it or lose it ” regulations
Here’s how the USAC Order spells out the new “use it or lose it” rules and regulations:
Subscribers have an obligation to inform their telecommunications carrier if they no longer qualify for Lifeline Program-supported service. Subscribers who become ineligible must de-enroll by contacting their telecommunications carrier directly.
In addition, there are several other situations that might result in a subscriber being de-enrolled from discounts including the following:
If a subscriber is receiving service for which the subscriber is not billed (for example, free wireless service), and the subscriber does not use the service for 60 consecutive days, the telecommunications carrier must provide the subscriber with 30 days notice that failure to use the service within the 30-day notice period will result in termination of program-supported service.
If the subscriber uses the service within the 30-day notice period, the telecommunications carrier shall not terminate program-supported service.
How to make sure your service remains active
We are 100% in agreement with this FCC edict (notice that we did not capitalize the “e” in edict). In effect, it merely requires you to use your free government cell phone once every 90 days (60 days plus the 30 days notice period). That’s hardly a draconian demand.
But keep in mind that there are a number of ways to “use” your free government cell phone. In conversations with USAC, they revealed a number of things you can do. And not all of them involved making phone calls.
Here’s the complete list in the words of USAC:
- Completion of an outbound call;
- Purchase of minutes from the eligible telecommunications carrier or the eligible telecommunications carrier’s agent or representative;
- Answering an incoming call from a party other than the eligible telecommunications carrier or the eligible telecommunications carrier’s agent or representative;
- Responding to direct contact from the eligible communications carrier and confirming that he or she want[s] to continue receiving the Lifeline service.
In other words, just about the only thing that won’t keep your free government cell phone account active is texting. To repeat, texting alone will NOT keep your account active, but any one of the actions listed above will.
Keep your cell phone account active
The FCC has put a major effort into reforming the Lifeline Assistance program by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. This Order addresses the waste issue very directly.
It turns out there’s nothing Lifeline Assistance service providers love more than users who sign up for the program but don’t use it. The service provider continue to collect $9.95 per month for each of those inactive accounts without providing any service. In other words, the monthly fee is 100% pure, unadulterated profit sucked from the government teat. And the longer the phones stay inactive, the better for the phone company.
If you haven’t used your free government cell phone for an extended period of time (and we can think of dozens of legitimate reasons why that might occur), do yourself a huge favor: Keep your account active by making a phone call, receiving a phone call, or purchasing extra minutes from your cell phone company.
You will save yourself a lot of trouble down the line.