Thursday, December 17, 2009

New FCC Telephone Subscribership Statistics Reveal Shortcomings in New York

This week, the FCC released the latest of its three-times-a-year Telephone Subscribership in the United States report. It contains data from July 2009 and shows that the percentage of households with a telephone in New York stands at 95.4%. While this is a slight increase from the last set of figures in March 2009 (94.7%), it still lags the national average and those of neighboring states. Subscribership increases to levels higher than New York's were in
  • the national average (from 95.6% to 95.7%)
  • Connecticut (97.6% to 98.5%),
  • Massachusetts (97.9% to 98.2%),
  • Pennsylvania (97.6% to 97.9%), and
  • Vermont (97.1% to 98.2%).
While New Jersey also saw a slight increase during this time period, from 94.8% to 95.1%, it now has fallen behind New York.

When conducting its survey, residents are asked by the FCC “Does this house, apartment, or mobile home have telephone service from which you can both make and receive calls? Please include cell phones, regular phones, and any other type of telephone.”

Using 2008 numbers, the US Census Bureau estimates that there are nearly eight million households in New York State. If 4.6% lack telephone service, that translates to about 368,000 New York households lacking telephones. By comparison, if New York achieved the 98.5% penetration rate of Connecticut, 248,000 more New York households would have telephones than have them today.

This is an unacceptably large number of households that can not reach emergency services or inquire about job openings or be reached by schools, businesses, and others.

With more than 1.3 million New York State households eligible for Lifeline discount telephone service (according to the Office for Temporary and Disability Assistance, OTDA, September 2009 Food Stamps report) and only about 300,000 participating in the Lifeline program , the problem is easily identified. However, resolving the problem requires a higher level of commitment from the New York State Public Service Commission (“PSC”) and OTDA than we have seen to date. See, Assistance Only For Some – Twenty-Four Years of New York State’s Lifeline Discount Telephone Program and Lifeline Awareness Week Coming in September; Will it Make a Difference?

Specifically, the PSC and OTDA must:
  1. Fix the automatic enrollment process between OTDA and the Lifeline providers,
  2. Break down policy barriers that inhibit the provision of the assistance to those whose phone service is provided by a cable company, and
  3. Eliminate tariff barriers which bar Lifeline to customers whose local phone service is included in a bundled package of local and long distance service.
Successful implementation of these proposals will greatly increase the percentage of New Yorkers with telephone service.

Lou Manuta

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