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Consumer groups ask FCC to police Lifeline program

15 Aug, 2013

Lifeline is a longtime federal program that subsidizes telephone service for low-income Americans. Right-wing critics have called it the Obama phone, but the program was actually begun under President Ronald Reagan, and provides essential service for otherwise often isolated people. Lifeline is funded by a small surtax on telephone bills.

Now, community and consumer groups have found that the program has indeed been at times misused, but not, as conservatives allege, by the recipients. “Low-income consumers aren’t the problem,” said John Breyault of the National Consumers League. “The problem is overly-aggressive marketing by a handful of companies.”

These companies are giving phones to people who don’t qualify and are then reimbursed by the program.

The remedy, say the community groups, is to prevent cellphones from being distributed on the same day people sign up – giving companies and the program a chance to check eligibility.

Don Mathis of Community Action Partnership, a nonprofit representing some 1,100 community action agencies, said that “This commonsense reform would be a significant step to quieting the concerns about this vitally important program,”

National Consumers League is a Speed Matters coalition partner and supports the proposed reform of Lifeline.

Consumer groups want stricter rules for ‘Obama phone’ program (The Hill, Aug. 13, 2013)

FCC Should Save Vital Lifeline Wireless Program By Blocking Carrier Abuses (Community Action Partnership news release, Aug. 13, 2013)

Republican attack on Lifeline runs into strong defense (Speed Matters, Apr. 26, 2013)

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