A comprehensive review of the state's Lifeline program for low-income telephone service should be conducted, regulators at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission said Thursday.
Staff for the commission's public utility division filed an application for a notice of inquiry covering several parts of the phone subsidy program, including higher reimbursements available for serving customers on tribal land. That includes 71 of the 77 counties in Oklahoma.
Money for the Lifeline reimbursements comes from state and federal Universal Service Fund surcharges, which are added to telephone customer bills.
The state's Lifeline program paid $3.8 million in reimbursements to phone companies in fiscal year 2013. A federal version of the program paid $121.5 million to Oklahoma phone companies in 2011, up from $79 million in 2010, according to Federal Communications Commission reports.
Oklahoma companies received almost 7 percent of the $1.7 billion in federal Lifeline reimbursements in 2011, according to data from the fund's administrator.
The Lifeline program has come under attack by lawmakers and consumer watchdog groups who said it has been ripe for abuse by both customers and phone companies receiving reimbursements. The Federal Communications Commission put new rules in place last year for customer verification. It is also developing a national database to make sure Lifeline service is not provided more than once to any eligible household.
Corporation Commission Chairwoman Patrice Douglas said Thursday she welcomed the Lifeline review in Oklahoma.
“I think this is long past due,” Douglas said. “We absolutely have to get Lifeline issues under control. We have to figure out ways to stop fraud and abuse in this program. I think it's rampant. We have found out in Oklahoma it's rampant and we have to get a handle on it.”
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I think this is long past due. We absolutely have to get Lifeline issues under control. We have to figure out ways to stop fraud and abuse in this program. I think it's rampant. We have found out in Oklahoma it's rampant and we have to get a handle on it.”
Corporation Commission Chairwoman