Thursday, May 07, 2009

Verizon Wireless Is Latest Provider to Offer Lifeline Discount Telephone Service in NY

Recently, Verizon Wireless began to offer Lifeline discount telephone service to low-income customers in New York. The company joins all of the incumbent local exchange carriers (including Verizon, Frontier/Citizens, and Windstream), several competitive local exchange carriers (such as AT&T), and two wireless providers (Sprint/Nextel and TracFone) as an FCC-approved "Eligible Telecommunications Carrier" (ETC) providing Lifeline service. Virgin Mobile has also been authorized to offer Lifeline in New York, but has not rolled out the service yet. An ETC receives reimbursement through the federal Universal Service Administrative Company, an arm of the FCC, for the amount of the federal Lifeline discount.

According to a Verizon Wireless brochure, Lifeline customers will pay $25.74 per month for 400 anytime minutes, 1000 local mobile to mobile calling minutes, and unlimited long distance – a savings of $8.25 off the basic monthly service bill. Also, eligible applicants will be able to activate the service for free, saving $30, under the Link-Up program. The application is available here:

PULP has updated its comparison chart of Lifeline offerings in New York to include Verizon Wireless.

While PULP wholeheartedly supports the addition of new Lifeline providers, we are concerned that the Public Service Commission has allowed the number of Lifeline customers in the state to drop from over 750,000 in 1996 to around 300,000 today – despite the fact that the number of households eligible for the service has greatly increased. The monthly savings – amounting to $15 to $20 for landline customers – is significant for a growing segment of our population, particularly as unemployment increases.

The savings for Lifeline customers with landline service are greater than for wireless Lifeline service because the New York PSC, unlike regulators in other states, does not terms and conditions of wireless service, and does not require wireless companies with ETC status to participate in a supplemental state Lifeline assistance program through the PSC-created Targeted Accessibility Fund.

With growing public reliance on wireless service, the time has come for the PSC to exercise its power to oversee terms, conditions, consumer protections and Lifeline assistance for wireless service customers.

Lou Manuta

1 comment:

life said...

Hi, Although this reply is a bit late considering when this entry was posted, I still hope it will be responded to.

In another PULP document Titled, "Assistance Only for Some..." Dated 9/11/09, Lou Manuta pointed out that even though additional LifeLine providers have joined the ranks in providing LifeLine services subscriber-ship continues to tank.

What is your take on the popularity of the Cable companies digital voice service? Although I don't have documented facts on cable TVs demographic penetration, I would assume, the phone service provided by the cable company as a Triple-Play package might play a big part as to why LifeLine subscriber-ship is not increasing. It seems that Optimum Voice for example offers phone service for approximately $29 a month with no additional taxes or fees. At this price point it would be very possible for many LifeLine eligible consumers to obtain phone service with unlimited calling and advanced calling features not available by the Likes of Verizon and other CLECs "without" having to subscribe to LifeLine. Additionally, signing up for Cable phone service does not involve the necessary paperwork involved with subscribing to LifeLine.

Speaking of paperwork, I have inquired many times from both USAC and the FCC regarding the use of Third Party Verification (TPV) and electronic signatures in the enrollment process of LifeLine subscribers. Not having to wait for signed applications AND a copy of the benefits card introduces a serious impediment in the signup prociess.

I work for a CLEC in NY and quite active in promoting the LifeLiine services for that CLEC. The points you have highlighted are a serious concern and need to be considered. I would respectively request if you might have some definitive information on the use of TPV, electronic signatures as well as simply requiring the consumers benefit ID rather than a copy of the actual benefits card.