FCC called on to extend wireless Lifeline reform deadline

June 1 deadline would harm the poorest Americans

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 24, 2012 – Nine leading senior, consumer, disability and minority organizations today called on FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to allow states seven additional months –- until January 1, 2013 -- to modernize the Universal Service Fund’s Lifeline program. Absent the necessary lead time, many state agencies that determine the eligibility of wireless Lifeline applicants will effectively close the program to new applicants, the groups warned.

The joint statement was signed by the following groups: Alliance for Generational Equity; California Alliance for Retired Americans; Community Action Partnership; Consumer Action; Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition; National Consumers League; National Grange; National Hispanic Media Coalition; and the World Institute on Disability.

The FCC announced the new rules on February 6, 2012 and allowed states only until June 1, 2012 to have centralized databases in place for the coordinated handling of applicant eligibility.  A number of states have no such computer systems set up and must make arrangements to do so; agencies in other states need additional time to put database solutions in place. 

For example, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) asked that the FCC “postpone the June 1 full certification effective date so that low-income Georgia households do not lose their ability to enroll in Lifeline programs during the period that the PSC, the Department of Human Resources and the Lifeline provider industry continue to pursue suitable database access arrangements.” (See http://bit.ly/JMX6sU)

In a joint letter of April 23, 31 Members of Congress wrote to the FCC: “Currently, many states do not have the eligibility databases in place to ensure that enrollees qualify for, and are in true need of Lifeline services.   If full certification is implemented in these states, we fear that current and prospective Lifeline subscribers may lose vital access to telephone service.” (See http://bit.ly/JH3Kew)

Seven of the groups filing the statement also filed comments with the FCC in April, asking the Agency to “postpone any changes to the enrollment process, particularly those that will burden consumers.” In that letter, the concern was raised about how the new rules could limit access for the neediest Americans if adopted.  With this new information from state lawmakers and agencies about the databases not being in place, that concern has become a reality:  those who need Lifeline services the most may lose or simply not be able to get access come June 1st.”  (See http://bit.ly/LkenVI)

In the new joint statement issued today to FCC Chairman Genachowksi, the nine groups said:

We have supported Federal Communication Commission efforts to reform and modernize the Universal Service Fund’s Lifeline program. We applaud the Commission’s efforts, especially those that seek to reduce fraud and modernize the program by expanding access to broadband.

However, we are concerned that the Commission is imposing an unrealistic and unworkable deadline of June 1, 2012 on states for coordinated review of Lifeline wireless applicants. As the Commission is well aware, many states are far from being ready to meet this deadline and require an extension at least until January 1, 2013 to do so.  We urge you to act now to shift the deadline from June 1, 2012 to January 1, 2013 in order to allow for an orderly and efficient switch to the new requirements.

Failing to do so would deprive tens of thousands of eligible Lifelines wireless applicants of the telecommunications access that Congress intended them to have.  Failing to do so in the face of clear indications that states are not ready to meet the deadline would send a signal that the FCC is willing to deliberately strand America’s most vulnerable consumers for no reason other than sticking with a purely arbitrary deadline that easily could be adjusted in a compassionate fashion. 

We can find no justifiable reason for a de facto shutdown of Lifeline wireless, thus depriving universal telecommunications access to the Americans who need it most.

Although telephone service does not guarantee financial freedom, it does create opportunity for greater economic freedom. In today’s challenging economic conditions, we believe Lifeline is more relevant and more important now than at any point in its 27-year history. We appreciate the time and energy you are devoting to ensuring the program’s success, and would welcome the opportunity to discuss our concerns with you in more detail. Thank you for your work on this issue.



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