Lifeline Program: Time to Go Customer-Way

Lifeline Program: Time to Go Customer-Way

Most Americans take their home phone service for granted. Especially when nowadays, just 5% of Americans rely exclusively on “plain old telephone service”. The rest use a variety of communications devices, a growing number of which are broadband-enabled.

However, ‘they’ don’t represent the entire segment of US household. We also have families struggling to pay for food, clothing and shelter and phone service is a luxury that is put on hold for better times. That practical decision really hurts their life in a big way. Lost opportunities, lack of accessibility of emergency services, and no communication link to near and dear ones.

The decades-old premise of the Lifeline program is that low-income consumers should have access to the communications service Americans generally say. It meant assuring the availability of basic voice service in 1980’s. Today, it means broadband. However, there have been talks of how the program needs to shed the old skin and take up a new garb.

In today’s cut-throat communications business, the truth is that now customers are making rules. Consumers are not ready to accept a service designed by regulators and delivered by telephone companies passively. We are living in an era of extreme communication with almost 80% of Americans having access to five or more wireless offerings. Customers frequently change amongst communications services, choosing the one that is best customized to their requirements.

We are already witnessing the probability of inclusion of broadband services as a part of lifeline program. So why not! Even lifeline can change the way it works, and do it in an even better way. Let’s see how we all are we expecting and wishing lifeline will change.

Lifeline Benefit Card…anyone?

A research report from the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) charts a path toward reform. Respecting the new power of consumers in the market, the report recommends that the Lifeline subsidy should work as per user direction. “Lifeline Benefit Card” should be provided to eligible consumers that allow them to pick their service provider. In theory, the FCC could bring this amendment, taking millions of subscribers into the communication market, without escalating Lifeline program expenses.

Subscriber eligibility…doing it this way!

Currently subscriber eligibility is decided by service provider considering FCC guidelines. That eligibility determination is essentially governmental function. It should be given to a governmental agency with enthusiasm to remove fraud and program exploitation. The move would not only considerably amplify administrative effectiveness, but would also decrease program expenditure.

De-link the Link

It would offer logic to de-link the Lifeline program from any belief of “eligible telecommunications carrier” (ETC) position. This idea is as damaged as the belief of Lifeline only providing voice service.

With these changes, we can run an important government program into a more contemporary light, providing direct and immediate benefits to the subscriber while backing it up against scam and abuse.