To strengthen protections against waste, fraud, and abuse, the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) today adopted modifications that reform and modernize the federal Lifeline Assistance (Lifeline) telephone discount program. Today’s decision implements a Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) February order.
In Florida, changes include eliminating Lifeline’s companion program, Link-Up Florida (Link-Up), on non-Tribal lands and modifying the monthly bill credit for Lifeline subscribers. Lifeline and Link-Up are funded through the Universal Service Fund (USF) charge on telephone customer bills, and program reforms will better utilize the fund to benefit the public interest. An April 2 implementation is pending a request to defer the date so telecommunications associations can meet tariff and notification requirements.
“It’s important that funds targeted to assist low-income consumers are used appropriately,” said PSC Chairman Ronald A. Brisé. “The FCC recently commended Florida’s leadership in addressing Lifeline program abuse and protecting consumers. These reforms will reinforce our efforts to assist consumers needing Lifeline Assistance.”
Link-Up provides a 50 percent discount, up to $30, on a landline telephone installation charge or on a wireless telephone activation fee, if applicable. The FCC determined that Link-Up is especially susceptible to potential abuse, since many companies have already discontinued connection charges for low-income customers. In the last three years, Link-Up program expenditures increased by more than 230 percent.
Since Lifeline’s inception in 1985, determinations for setting the program’s monthly bill credit have become outdated. While it seeks further comment on the appropriate reimbursement amount, the FCC set an interim monthly USF credit at $9.25. In Florida, Lifeline subscribers will continue to receive an additional $3.50 for a total monthly credit of $12.75, down from the current $13.50 credit.
Another Lifeline program change coming on June 1 is elimination of Florida’s simplified certification process, which allows consumers to sign a document certifying their participation in a qualifying federal assistance program. The FCC found that self-certification does not effectively prevent ineligible consumers from enrolling in Lifeline.
Transitioning from the simplified certification process should be seamless. In 2008, Florida’s PSC partnered with the Department of Children and Families to establish a coordinated online Lifeline enrollment process. Continuing use of this computer portal certification and verification process allows eligible consumers to immediately receive their monthly Lifeline credit.
The FCC’s order also establishes a Broadband Adoption Pilot Program using $25 million in USF savings from other program reforms. Lifeline program reforms are expected to save $2 billion over the next three years.
For additional information, visit the FCC’s Web site at www.fcc.gov or the PSC’s Web site at www.floridapsc.com.
Follow the PSC on Twitter, @floridapsc.