Opponents of Lifeline Assistance, the free government cell phone program, are as persistent as cockroaches. Just when you start thinking that you’ve eliminated the last of them, a new one scurries across the floor. In this case, the floor of a state house somewhere across the fruited plain.
For example, LifelineLaw.com recently provided this update on the status of the program in Georgia, a state that had threatened to impose a $5 minimum monthly charge on each customer:
On August 5, the Georgia PSC adopted an order rescinding its rule that would have required Lifeline ETCs to either bill and collect a $5 minimum monthly Lifeline rate or offer a Lifeline plan that includes 500 monthly minutes.
The rule was adopted last October but never actually took effect, because it was immediately challenged in a Georgia federal district court by CTIA on the ground that such a rule violates the federal Communications Act’s prohibition of state regulation of wireless phone rates. Last December the district court issued a preliminary injunction against the rule.
To paraphrase Job 1:21, The Lord giveth and The Lord taketh away. Because on the same day that the Georgia Public Service Commission backed off its proposed $5 month charge, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission proposed a $3 monthly fee on Lifeline Assistance customers in the Sooner State.
The very same day, however, yet another state (Oklahoma) initiated a rulemaking proposing a $3 minimum monthly Lifeline rate. As described by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (“OCC”), the rule would “require that wireless Lifeline customers pay a minimum of $3.00 per month for Lifeline service, to encourage the reduction of waste, fraud and abuse in the Lifeline program.” The new Oklahoma rulemaking also proposes, among other things, to assess a percentage of prepaid wireless revenues for contribution to the Oklahoma state USF fund; require Lifeline ETCs to retain Lifeline subscribers’ eligibility documentation for 90 days; prohibit door-to-door solicitation for Lifeline services; and prohibit cash incentives for customers signing up at Lifeline mobile marketing events.
No one knows the legal ins-and-outs of Lifeline better than Davis Wright Tremaine, the Washington, DC law firm behind LifelineLaw.com. They’ve guided a considerable number of the nation’s Lifeline Assistance companies through the regulatory process and continue to advise them on an on-going basis.
So when they say, “We believe that the minimum rate proposal would violate federal law just as the Georgia rule did, and that the eligibility documentation retention proposal probably violates FCC rules”, we believe them.
In other words, free government cell phone customers in the state of Oklahoma can probably relax. That $3 per month fee will never get off the ground.