4 Consumer, Low-Income And Rural Groups: Wireless Lifeline Reforms Are Working, Program Should Be Continued

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2015 — The following joint statement was issued today by Community Action Partnership, Consumer Action, National Consumers League and The National Grange on the impact of reforms on the wireless Lifeline program:

“The wireless Lifeline program provides needed access to millions of low-income Americans to health care, employment, and emergency services.  We are concerned by continued public statements and media accounts that consistently criticize this vital program, and ignore the enormous strides made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to address past inefficiencies. Responsible parties discussing wireless Lifeline should acknowledge the facts:  Wireless Lifeline enriches lives and is a valuable program; reforms have been enacted and they are working.

We are now past the three-year anniversary of the comprehensive wireless Lifeline reforms that the FCC put in place on January 31, 2012.  We admire Chairman Wheeler’s recognition of the program’s challenges, and his commitment to continue to fix them. Of the 11 primary reforms the FCC had said it would make in 2012, only four have yet to be completed.

Chief among these reforms are the following significant steps: requiring documented proof of subscriber eligibility; annual recertification of subscriber eligibility; limiting Lifeline subscriptions to one per household; establishing the National Lifeline Accountability Database to eliminate and prevent duplicate subscriptions; and independent audits of carriers every two years.

There is no escaping the conclusion that the wireless Lifeline reforms are working.  The impact of the reforms include the following:

  • Spending on wireless Lifeline is the second smallest portion of the FCC’s four major Universal Service Fund (USF) programs. In fact, spending on wireless Lifeline is down 27 percent from a peak of $2.2 billion in 2012 to less than $1.7 billion last year, with a total of about half a billion dollars saved over the last two years.
  • Participation in wireless Lifeline is far below the level of Americans who qualify for the program.  Participation has dropped by a full third from the peak of 18 million in 2012 to about 12 million last year. The GAO has estimated that 40 million U.S. citizens qualify for Lifeline and other calculations put the number higher. The wireless Lifeline program should remain available to every American who meets the eligibility criteria to participate in it.
  • Duplicated wireless Lifeline subscribers are being weeded out.  Online since January 2014, the National Lifeline Accountability Database is an outgrowth of FCC efforts in 2011 that eliminated nearly 270,000 duplicate subscriptions in 12 states following review of over 3.6 million subscriber records, saving $33 million.

The bottom line for our groups is that wireless Lifeline provides a vital service for Americans in need and it should be continued.”