Groups ask FCC to expand Universal Service Fund assistance

Consumer Action joins coalition to ask that subsidies be added for emergency dial tone and prepaid phone services

Members of the media may contact Ken McEldowney or Linda Sherry, (415) 777-9648

April 15, 2003 - Consumer Action has joined with other consumer rights organizations to file a petition before the Federal Communications Commission calling for expansion of the services supported by the Universal Service Fund (“USF”). Download the petition as a PDF file. The petitioners, who urge the Commission to include "soft dial tone" and prepaid phone service, believe that the current telecommunications services supported by the USF are inadequate to ensure that all Americans receive telephone access to emergency services at affordable rates.

The USF is funded through surcharges on the phone bills of all U.S. phone subscribers.

"Soft dial tone" allows people who have had their local phone service disconnected to place calls from the disconnected line to emergency 9-1-1. The petitioners note that only a few states now mandate soft dial tone service, which suggests that other states will not adopt the requirement without FCC action.

The petitioners believe that prepaid phone services should be supported by the USF because they are particularly useful to low wealth individuals who must budget what little money they have. Traditional unrestricted phone service allows charges to accrue rapidly and by the end of the month, many consumers cannot afford to pay. This often results in disconnected phones.

In addition, prepaid phone services would be useful for homeless people, who need to use public phones and are not eligible for Lifeline assistance or Linkup support because they do not have a place to live.

The petitioners believe that USF subsidization of soft dial tone and prepaid phone services would increase the number of people who have affordable phone service and ensure access to emergency, health, educational, employment and other essential services.

The petitioners are represented by the Institute for Public Representation, Georgetown University Law Center.

The petitioners in this filing include the Alliance for Community Media, Appalachian People's Action Coalition, Center for Democracy and Technology, The Community Technology Institute, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Edgemont Neighborhood Coalition, The Migrant Legal Action Program, National Coalition for the Homeless, National Community Voice Mail Coalition and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

 

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