Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Phone Discount Underutilized; PSC Recently Expanded Eligibility Standards for Low-Income Residents

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Phone Discount Underutilized; PSC Recently Expanded Eligibility Standards for Low-Income Residents

Article excerpt

Byline: VICKY ECKENRODE

ATLANTA -- Thousands more low-income Georgia residents could start signing up for free phone installation and monthly bill assistance under measures state regulators are taking to expand the program.

The state Public Service Commission recently approved additional eligibility requirements for who can sign up for the help, which is paid through the Universal Service Fund, or USF.

Long-distance phone carriers pay into the fund that is collected at the federal level for four different programs, including the low-income assistance and money to push phone service into rural areas.

Though it is not a federal requirement, phone companies typically pass on the USF charges to customers who use long distance. Wireless phone customers and digital subscriber line users also pay a percentage of their bills to the fund.

Under the state's new rules, the carriers will have uniform eligibility requirements. Right now, for example, BellSouth allows people who receive low-income senior citizen discounts on their gas and electric bills to enroll in the phone program, but other carriers in the state do not.

The conflicting rules, as well as a lack of awareness about the available money, have resulted in only 15 percent of more than 500,000 eligible Georgians actually receiving the benefits. That's below the national average of one-third of eligible households participating, which the Federal Communications Commission said last year was too low.

Georgia Public Service Commissioner David Burgess said he would like to see the state's participation rate double in the coming years.

He said consumers already are paying into the national fund but the money for low-income help is not coming back into the state.

"The money's on the table," he said. "I don't think we've done a very good job of advising consumers of the assistance that's available."

For those who qualify, the so-called Link-Up Georgia program can pay for having a phone line installed. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.