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Lifeline phone provider asks to dismiss Oklahoma Corporation Commission case

Icon Telecom Inc. said the Corporation Commission didn't have jurisdiction when staff of its public utility division filed a complaint alleging the company failed to properly verify low-income customers in the Lifeline program.
by Paul Monies Modified: September 12, 2013 at 4:00 pm •  Published: September 11, 2013

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission lacks the power to enforce federal rules for a low-income telephone program called Lifeline, an attorney for Icon Telecom Inc. said Wednesday.

The company responded to a complaint by public utility division staff alleging Icon failed to properly verify and track customers who signed up for discounted telephone service under the state's Lifeline program.

In a hearing to dismiss the case, Icon's attorney, George Makohin, said the Federal Communications Commission is the only agency that can hold the company in contempt for violations of federal rules.

“This commission cannot clothe itself in federal authority,” Makohin said of the Corporation Commission.

Public utility division staff filed the complaint in August listing more than 40,900 violations, including numerous instances of customers with the same post office boxes, dates of birth or mailing addresses. Many of the violations said Icon had failed to collect customer birth dates or partial Social Security numbers for identity verification under federal rules. Just one Lifeline service is allowed per household.

Much of Wednesday's hearing dealt with arguments over enforcement and jurisdiction under the state's Lifeline program and a federal version of the program.

The programs, which provide reimbursements to phone companies offering Lifeline service, are funded from state and federal Universal Service Fund surcharges on telephone customer bills.

Oklahoma Lifeline paid $3.8 million in reimbursements to phone providers operating in Oklahoma in fiscal year 2013. The companion federal Lifeline program paid out more than $218 million in federal reimbursements in Oklahoma in 2012.

Makohin said the state changed its customer verification requirements for Lifeline under a law passed by the Legislature in May, but the complaint listed violations of FCC rules from late 2012 and early 2013. The FCC implemented its own customer verification requirements in mid-2012. Some of the duplicate subscriber lists referenced by the complaint predate the new federal rules, he said.

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by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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