Friday, May 07, 2010

The FCC Stops TracFone from Backing Away from State 911 Requirements

Although TracFone willingly claims and accepts millions every month in universal service support, it has attempted to back away from state requirements to provide emergency 911 service. Back in 2008, the FCC granted TracFone’s petition to be designated as a Lifeline-only Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (“ETC”) in 12 states, including New York. One of the requirements placed on TracFone so that it could receive federal Universal Service Fund (“USF”) low income support was the company’s commitment to be in full compliance with state 911 and E-911 requirements. Not satisfied with this “onerous” mandate, the company petitioned the FCC last summer to relieve it of this obligation. In a May 3rd Order, the FCC denied TracFone’s request.

The FCC held that the 911/E911 requirement “was relevant to the issue of whether designation of TracFone as an ETC was in the public interest” and “[g]iven the circumstances presented by TracFone’s petitions for limited ETC designation for Lifeline support, the Commission imposed the 911/E911 certification condition as being necessary to counterbalance the potential disadvantages of designating TracFone a limited ETC.” It also found that “access to 911 and E911 was especially critical for TracFone’s Lifeline customers because that service may be the customer’s only means of accessing emergency services.”

The Commission went on to note that “the certification condition enforces the principle that Lifeline funds should not be disbursed to any carrier that is not providing access to emergency services nor complying with state-level obligations regarding 911 funding; that principle should be especially potent here, where extending emergency services to the most needy was a motivating factor in the Commission’s initial grant of forbearance to TracFone.” Should TracFone not comply with state 911 and E-911 requirements, the FCC stated that it will consider whether TracFone’s certification should continue to be effective.

At the same time that TracFone was attempting to abdicate one of its primary responsibilities as a Lifeline ETC, it had no qualms in accepting millions of dollars every month in USF low income support. According to the Universal Service Administrative (USAC), for the last quarter of 2009, TracFone received over $10.6 million in support for New York alone. The company is projected to receive over $12 million in the second quarter of 2010. In fact, for all of its states, TracFone received over $156 million of USF support in the fourth quarter of 2009. These figures equate to more than 26 million Lifeline customers nationwide. While it is commendable that they have been able to provide Lifeline service to so many low income users, the least they should do is permit these customers to access emergency services. They are certainly reaping sufficient financial rewards to do so.

Lou Manuta

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