Can’t afford a phone? This program helps you stay connected

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Sept. 13, 2015, at 12:38 p.m.

Click link for consumer information.

Officials with two state agencies say it’s critical for people to be able to reach emergency service providers and other important resources. For that reason, the Maine Public Utilities Commission and Office of the Public Advocate are calling on residents to have working phones so they “stay connected.”

The utilities regulatory commission and public advocate are joining forces again this year to promote Lifeline Awareness Week, Sept. 14-20. The Lifeline Assistance Program offers discounts to help residents with access to basic phone service.

The program has been around since 1985. The aim — explained on the website of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission — is “to ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that phone service brings, including being able to connect to jobs, family and emergency services.”

That last point can be critical, in a large, mostly rural state like Maine.

In a statement, PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy said, “Access to local emergency services and community resources is vital to Maine’s low-income and elderly residents.”

Public Advocate Tim Schneider added, “We encourage customers who are eligible to take advantage of the Lifeline Program for a landline or cell phone, depending on their needs.”

Under the Lifeline Assistance Program, telephone customers who participate in or otherwise qualify for certain public assistance programs are eligible for a basic telephone service discount of $9.25 per month; that’s for a landline. Eligible consumers may instead choose a wireless option and receive a free cell phone with up to 250 minutes of free service each month.

The FCC sets the rules for the Lifeline Assistance Program and says a consumer may receive the benefit for either a landline or cell phone but not both.

Also, the FCC requires eligible customers complete and return a recertification form that’s furnished by their service provider. If they don’t fill out and return the form during the designated period, they’ll be dropped from the program.

Consumers can find out if they’re eligible for the program by using the Lifeline Eligibility Pre-Screening Tool on the Universal Service Administrative Company website at lifelinesupport.org.

Universal Service Administrative Company is an independent, not-for-profit company named by the FCC to administer universal service.

Consumers can sign up by calling either their local telephone company or one of the wireless providers that’s eligible to provide Lifeline service in Maine. People with questions about the program or who have difficulty enrolling can call PUC’s Consumer Assistance Division toll-free at (800) 452-4699.

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau maintains a toll-free Lifeline fraud tip line, 1-855-4LL-TIPS (1-855-455-8477) where callers can report cases of possible fraud.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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