Section 254 of the Communications Act created a national policy that all Americans should have full and equal access to telecommunications services. The term “all” includes, of course, Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The Universal Service Fund makes it possible for people residing in remote and rural locations, as well as in the inner cities, to receive telecommunications services at affordable rates. Two programs supported by the Universal Service Fund of interest to our community are the “Lifeline” and “Link-Up” programs.
The “Lifeline” free cell phone program makes monthly phone service feasible, even in high-cost areas. Lifeline assistance provides discounts on basic monthly service at the primary residence for qualified telephone subscribers. These discounts can be up to $10.00 per month, depending on your state. Lifeline service providers also offer free text and free minutes to eligible consumers. Residents of Native American Indian and Alaska Native tribal communities may qualify for enhanced Lifeline assistance (up to an additional $25.00) and expanded Link-Up support (up to an additional $70.00).
The “Link-Up” program helps income-eligible consumers obtain telephone service. This program pays one-half (up to a maximum of $30) of the initial installation fee for a traditional, wireline telephone or activation fee for a wireless telephone for a primary residence. It also allows participants to pay the remaining amount they owe on a deferred schedule, interest-free.
For more information about Universal Service Life Line and Link-Up programs, see the FCC factsheet at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/lllu.html.
The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) has proposed changes to Universal Service Fund programs. These proposed changes are in the universal service section of proposed legislation called the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.” That legislation, when passed, would allow people with disabilities to use their Lifeline and Link-Up support for broadband services. It would also allocates up to $10 million per year from the Universal Service Fund for telecommunications equipment used by people who are deaf-blind.