Lifeline Program – A Hot Political Topic

Obama phone
Lifeline subsidized cell phone service

Ever since the video of the “Obama Phone Lady” became viral, the Lifeline program has been a volatile subject among our politicians. It’s now being reviewed at a hearing by the Communications and Technology subcommittee scheduled for April 25, 2013. The committee is concerned that the size of the “fund” is growing out of control.

The Lifeline program has been seen as an embarrassment to the Obama administration, with the republicans taking full advantage of the “Obama Phone Lady” video. What most people don’t know is that the Republicans started the Lifeline program under the Raegan administration. It was originally set up to subsidize home phone service but was expanded to include cell phone service under the Bush administration. The program just became popular since Obama took office.

It has been criticized for its lack of oversight and control, resulting in waste. Last year, in 2012, it was reformed by the FCC and many controls were supposed to be put in place over the coming months to reduce the fraud and abuse that was going on. The problem is that the controls have been slow in coming. Much of the control is dependent on databases to be put in place to check for duplication and eligibility. It was put upon the individual states to implement these databases and that just hasn’t happened yet.

In the mean time, there has been a substantial reduction of the fraud. The FCC has imposed strict rules for qualifying a consumer, while not providing the databases needed to efficiently execute those mandates. As a result, it has become very difficult for the consumer to successfully apply for the program. The consumer needs documentation to prove their qualifications but most need to get a member of the Geek Squad to help them electronically deliver it the the provider. Live events seem to be the only way a consumer can apply because they can bring their paperwork and show it to a sales rep. Unfortunately, there are millions of qualified individuals that aren’t able to get to a live event.

So, we can only wait and see what comes out of the hearing. Those that are running the hearing want to see the program terminated. However, those that are in office see that a majority of their voters would be affected by that. Unfortunately, like so many other programs under the government’s control, it’s more about politics that what’s good for the people.

Is a Home Phone Worth Having?

Many of us today have to question the need for a home phone line. It seems to be an expense we can do without. It’s a lot like insurance – we pay a lot of money for something that we rarely, if ever, use. If you have a cell phone, why would you also need a home phone?

A home phone still has some merit. If you have a family, especially with younger children that aren’t ready for their own cell phones, a home phone provides some comfort and security. It’s nice to be able to call home rather than going through your list of cell phone numbers of other family members. And, if there is an emergency at the house, it’s more likely you’re going to reach for the home phone. A home phone still has an advantage when it comes to 911.

So, if I’d like to have a home phone, what is the price at which it makes economic sense? I suppose that number can be different depending on your economic status. For many low income families, that number is very low. But, there is a way for those families to get cheap home phone service. Lifeline is a federal government assistance program that provides a discount on your residential phone service. For those that qualify, it will reduce your bill by about $10. It may now seem like much of a discount but if you get just a basic line without all the additional features, you can get that monthly payment under twenty dollars per month. This may be enough to justify that antique that sits on the table, rarely ever used.