Recent Legislation Affecting the Lifeline Program
Lifeline is a government sponsored telecommunications program that makes it possible for low income families in the U.S. to receive discounted rates on their telephone services. This program was initiated because low income consumers were unable to afford the high costs of standard telecommunications services. Since its inception, thousands of low income families been able to partake of conventional phone services at rates conducive to their income. More information about the qualifications and application for this program can be obtained by visiting the Lifeline site at www.lifelinesupport.org.
In January 2012, the program introduced major reforms to reduce expenses and improve the level of performance. These changes were two fold in nature: to target financial abuse and waste and to upgrade the services that customers receive. These reforms were sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with the expectation of substantially improving the Lifeline program for the coming years ahead.
Financial Reforms Instituted in 2012
The financial reforms instituted for Lifeline in 2012 are specifically geared toward rolling back expenses and eliminating waste to save as much as $2 billion within the next three years. The following are some of the proposed changes to accomplish this goal:
- Major cutback on expenses to save $200 million in 2012.
- Adoption of a new budget for 2013, after completing six month and one year reviews.
- Creation of a National Lifeline Accountability Database to help eliminate multiple carrier subscribers
- Creation of consumer eligibility databases utilizing government data resources. This will help eliminate subscriber fraud as well as improve services to eligible consumers and phone service providers. Deadline for these databases is set for 2013 end.
- Limitation of phone lines to one-per-household (economic unit) for all phone providers as a means of eliminating multiple carrier subscribers.
- Establishment of specified goals to measure the program’s effectiveness and performance
- Elimination of Toll Limitation and Link Up services
- Establishment of a uniform, flat rate for reimbursement of phone carrier service
Steps for Modernization
At the same time financial reforms are required to cut back on Lifeline expenses, specific upgrades are also needed to ensure customers receive the quality, up-to-date services they need. Towards this end, the following changes have been proposed for modernizing the Lifeline program:
- Initiation of broadband services for low income Americans
- Establishment of a pilot program for Broadband to determine how to put this program into effect. Funding for this initiative will initially come from financial savings in other areas of the program.
- The increase of training programs for digital literacy in libraries and schools.
- The support of Lifeline service plans or packages that combine broadband and voice or that include additional calling features