Monday, June 15, 2009

Update on Lack of Lifeline Information at the PSC Website

A PSC representative took issue with our statement in All NY Phone Customers Lose Big $$ Due to PSC Lifeline Policies that
We could look for details on Lifeline and LinkUp assistance at the New York PSC’s Lifeline webpage -- but there isn’t one.

In fact, about all the consumer information you’ll find by searching the NY PSC website is an “Options for Telephone Consumers” page, which offers a one sentence description of Lifeline.
We were pointed to another PSC-funded web site, " It has a page on the Lifeline assistance program.

Still, the site index on the main PSC website does not mention Lifeline and Linkup, nor does the "A-Z Index" on the main PSC site.

The vast majority of eligible customers eligible for but not receiving Lifeline assistance should not have to "ask" the PSC and apply one by one at the alternative website or through their telephone company. Indeed, many of the households eligible for Lifeline assistance may be living in hardship made worse by high phone bills, and they cannot afford the internet service or computers they need to find information via the internet and the "AskPSC" website.

They should be more efficiently automatically enrolled in the reduced rate through a confidentiality protected match of records of customers receiving Food Stamps, HEAP, and other Lifeline-qualifying programs.

On the PSC's watch
  • the major provider, Verizon, was allowed to adopt tariffs restricting Lifeline assistance when the customer buys service in a package,
  • competing telephone service providers such as cable companies are allowed to avoid providing Lifeline, and
  • the automatic enrollment system pioneered in cooperation with PULP, state agencies, and telephone companies is broken, with only 300,000 households getting the assistance out of an easily found population of four to five times that number.
As a result, a million easily identifiable eligible households are not getting assistance, low-income New Yorkers are losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year in telephone assistance, and New Yorkers are paying universal service surcharges that go to other states.

Update - July 7, 2009
According to latest available statistics, 309,000 customers received telephone lifeline assistance in 2008. While this is more than the 300,000 mentioned above, it reflects the downturn since the peak of 746,000 customers about ten years ago, and illustrates the failure of the PSC to commit to providing assistance to all who are eligible for Lifeline and to oval of barriers to enrollment.

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