The government is actively searching for customers who have more than one free government cell phone account. Read this article if you’re one of those people, because it will save you a lot of grief if you get nabbed in the government crackdown.
We’ve all seen newspaper articles and television news stories filled with wild tales of scam artists who have ten or twenty or more Lifeline Assistance free government cell phones. We often condemn scammers whose actions threaten the existence of this valuable program.
But there are other groups of free government cell phone customers who have multiple phones not through scamming, but through their own mistaken actions. We’re talking about those who have more than one phone because (a) They mistakenly signed up for phones from different providers, (b) they switched from one company to another without notifying their first provider, or (c) It took so long for their first provider to ship their phone that they signed up with a different provider out of frustration, (d) Their first refurbished free government cell phone was so shoddy that they threw it away and signed up with another provider.
There are probably lots of other reasons that honest but needy customers find themselves receiving more benefits from more than one free government cell phone company.
The simple fact is that it’s easy to end up with more than one government cell phone account without being guilty of any crimes.
But it’s just as simple a fact that having more than one free government cell phone is a clear violation of the programs rules and regulations, and the government is going after those innocent scofflaws.
The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), the governing organization behind Lifeline Assistance, has begun a proactive program to de-enroll anyone with more than one free government cell phone. They’ve cross-referenced customer information gleaned from all phone companies participating in the free government cell phone business, identified all customers receiving benefits from multiple companies, and have sent letters to those individuals.
Makes sense, right? No so fast.
Just when you thought this was one rational government action, the harsh reality kicks in. Turns out that this seemingly logical USAC action was actually self-defeating.
Here’s how the USAC describes it:
Once a subscriber receives the letter from USAC, he/she has 35 days from the date of the letter to select a single Lifeline Program carrier. During this 35-day period, NLAD does not allow changes to be made to the subscriber’s information. Significantly, subscribers may not be de-enrolled from his/her Lifeline Program benefit by any service provider from NLAD.
Brilliant, isn’t it? The USAC wants to end duplicate enrollment, but they don’t allow customers to de-enroll themselves.
Luckily, someone at the USAC realized the insanity of its actions, and issued some corrective notices. Here’s how they explain it:
Therefore, we direct ETCs to undertake this process effective Tuesday, July 29, 2014, to effectuate the request of the subscriber:
If a subscriber approaches an ETC and asks to be de-enrolled during his/her 35-day period, the ETC must de-enroll that subscriber within the ETC’s system and cease provision of Lifeline Program service to that individual at that time.
The ETC must keep a record of the subscriber’s request to be de-enrolled and the subsequent de-enrollment.
Once the 35-day letter period expires for that particular subscriber, the ETC must de-enroll the subscriber from NLAD and enter the de-enrollment date.
ETC must keep a record of the entry into NLAD 36 days later as necessary due to the 35-day letter period for that particular subscriber.
ETC records should make reference to this USAC guidance as authorizing these actions for audit purposes.
We’re always surprised when any governmental body acts in a rational manner, so we weren’t surprised when the USAC’s actions seemed contrary to its goals.
But we were pleasantly surprised to see that it realized the error of its ways and issued new rules that allow customers to de-enroll after they’ve bee notified that they are in violation of the regulations.
Good mid-course correction, USAC.
How to de-enroll a Lifeline phone
If you find yourself in the situation of having more than one Lifeline cell phone, pick the one you wish to keep and then contact the other company/companies and ask them to de-enroll you. If they say they cannot, point out the USAC ruling we’ve told you about here. If you need the contact information for a phone company, you can get it from our list of providers on this page.
If you cannot recall the name of the company you receive the phone from, if it’s still working dial 611 to contact their customer service department to find out.