The FCC has proposed fining a trio of wireless operators nearly $33 million for violating rules of the government’s Lifeline program which subsidizes telephone service for the poor.
In 2005, Lifeline service discounts, were made available to qualifying low-income consumers on pre-paid wireless service plans in addition to traditional landline service. Lifeline is part of the Universal Service Fund, a 15% line-item tax on most people’s phone bill.
The FCC explained that each operator knew or should have known that the “consumers were ineligible because they were already receiving service from that carrier.” More than two million customers have been found to be ineligible for Lifeline services, with carriers having to re-adjust their customer count.
The proposed fines were in addition to “full recovery of the universal service funds paid to the carriers for duplicative Lifeline service.”
The Lifeline program was started in 1985 to provide low-income consumers access to telecommunications. Most wireless offerings provide for around 250 calling minutes and a limited number of text messages for free.
The FCC began to transition money from the USF High-Cost Program in October, 2011, to a new $4.5 billion a year America Fund for broadband Internet expansion, effectively putting an end to the USF High-Cost Fund by 2018.
The Connect America Fund is part of the FCC’s initiative to bring broadband access to rural communities. Some $32 million was authorized last week to bring broadband to Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Alaska, connecting over 100,000 people who lack service.
This was the first in a series of authorizations designed to extend broadband to as many as 600,000 households and businesses in 44 states and one territory in the near future.