Interim Process to Reduce Duplicate Low Income Support and Rule Changes Adopted by FCC

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On June 21, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted an interim process designed to reduce the number of consumers receiving Low Income-supported telephone services from more than one provider. The Low Income program, also known as Lifeline/Link Up, provides federal subsidies to carriers that provide certain services to low income consumers who qualify for the program (typically by demonstrating that they receive other benefits such as food stamps or Medicaid). Under program rules, a person may receive subsidized service from only one carrier.

This rule has proved difficult for carriers to enforce because privacy restrictions prohibit them from comparing subscriber lists in order to prevent duplicate support. Instead, carriers have had to rely on the statements of consumers, which have proved to be an inadequate method of wholly preventing duplicate support. Eventually, the FCC intends to establish a national database to provide a definitive means of removing and avoiding duplicate support. Until this database can be established, the FCC, along with a group of industry participants, has created an interim process to begin weeding out duplicate support.

Under the interim process, select carriers in certain states will provide subscriber lists to the Universal Service Administrative Company (or USAC, the FCC’s contractor that administers the federal Universal Service program). USAC will compare the lists and send a letter to each consumer receiving subsidized service from more than one carrier. This letter will instruct the consumer to choose one carrier for the subsidy. If the consumer fails to choose, a previously-determined, randomly-assigned “default” carrier will be assigned to provide the supported service. Carriers not chosen or assigned will be notified, and will have five days to switch the consumer to a regular, full-cost service plan (i.e., de-enroll them from Lifeline support for that service) after which the carrier may no longer seek the subsidy.

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