$5 phone fee for Ga. poor criticized
by Ray Henry, Associated Press
October 10, 2013 11:43 PM | 1456 views | 6 6 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATLANTA — Republican regulators should not charge poor people a monthly fee to get federally subsidized phone service in Georgia, critics said Thursday.

The members of the GOP-led Public Service Commission have proposed charging people $5 a month if they receive the phone service. The U.S. government pays phone companies $9.25 for every customer they serve in the Lifeline program. Most firms provide the service for less than the government subsidy, meaning the companies make a profit and customers pay no out-of-pocket costs.

Commissioner H. Doug Everett, a Republican, proposed the rule change and has argued that people receiving government benefits can pay something for them. The program — which federal officials and phone companies say was abused — has become a popular target for conservatives who deride it as government waste. Supporters argue it provides a critical communications link for poor households.

“You’re taking money now from some of the poorest people of the world and giving it to other people who haven’t worked for it,” Everett said during a hearing Thursday.

Critics of the change argue that it will punish the poor instead of ferreting out abuse. Companies can avoid the $5 charge if they offer at least 500 minutes of service, though most firms say that wouldn’t be economic.

Several phone carriers have argued that they would spend more trying to collect the $5 payments from customers than the actual cash was worth.

TracFone Wireless Inc., which serves roughly 250,000 Georgia households in the program, has acknowledged that people were improperly enrolled in the past. However, the Federal Communications Commission has tightened program rules and will soon unveil a database designed to catch households that improperly receive funding.

Before the rule changes, the FCC estimated that as many as 15 percent of Lifeline subscribers were ineligible, costing the public as much as $360 million annually.

TracFone attorney Mitchell Brecher said that while databases will deter fraud, charging poor people more money will not.

“You would be taking money, $5 per month, $60 per year from the poorest people in the state of Georgia and giving it to telecommunications companies,” he told Everett.

The Lifeline program started in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Spending jumped sharply in recent years, which observers attribute to a poor economy and an increased number of telephone carriers who participate.

The program saw spending jump from $582 million in 1998 to roughly $2.2 billion in 2012. However, telephone companies say usage rates are coming down in Georgia as the economy improves and tougher rules take effect.

Robert Patillo, an attorney who does volunteer work with the homeless, said the commission was focusing on the wrong people.

“You have the telephone companies that are committing these sins by issuing these additional phones and you’re punishing the consumer,” he said.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
October 14, 2013
Look what happened when the food stamp cards quit working the other day. Depending on government for your family is like risking all.
Papermill gal
October 12, 2013
The Obamaphone mooches can afford $5. Most of them are selling drugs anyway, or driving BMWs.

truth hurts
October 11, 2013
If the NSA would let the critics here what these phones are really being used for there would be no critics. Cancel the whole program, your home phone can dial 911 even if you don't have full service!
Fully agreed
October 11, 2013
These same people have cable tv and many other things. I am tired of funding the people who have made bad choices and then finding out scumbags have been abusing the service. Cut the program!
October 13, 2013
to the last few comments, you will be eating your words when all of you are laid off or you just lose everything and you have nowhere else to turn to whether it be an "obamaphone" or any other government run program
To NYYGrrl
October 14, 2013
I have saved my money wisely and won't worry about mooching off the public! Those 48% of us whom pay taxes are tired of supporting your rear end!
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