Staff for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has filed a complaint against an Oklahoma City telephone company for failing to verify customers in a low-income phone subsidy program called Lifeline.
In a filing, the commission's public utility division said a review of Icon Telecom Inc. subscribers showed multiple customers with the same post office boxes, dates of birth or mailing addresses. In several instances, customers signed up with the address of an organization that helps the homeless but isn't a shelter.
The complaint lists 40,902 violations and asks for the company to come into compliance or face fines of up to $500 for each violation — for total fines of up to $20.45 million. A hearing is set Sept. 11 before an administrative law judge in Oklahoma City.
The Oklahoma Lifeline program provides discounted landline or wireless service to low-income households. It is funded by Oklahoma Universal Service Fund fees added to the bills of most phone customers.
George Makohin, an attorney for Icon, said the company had been cooperating with commission staff on providing requested data and information before the complaint was filed.
“Therefore, it is deeply disappointing that staff did not seek to continue a dialogue with Icon, but instead filed sensationalized allegations in an entirely new matter,” Makohin said in an email.
About the complaint
The complaint said Icon didn't obtain birth dates and partial Social Security numbers for tens of thousands of subscribers to determine their eligibility for the program. Only one Lifeline service is allowed for each household.
Makohin said the Federal Communications Commission changed its rules last year on what customer information is required to be kept by carriers under the Lifeline program.
In February, the state Corporation Commission included Icon among five companies it asked for additional information on compliance with the Lifeline program. Makohin said it appears Icon has been unfairly singled out for enforcement by the commission.
Separately, staff for the public utility division last year filed papers to revoke Icon's certificate of convenience and necessity to do business in the state. Staff said the company hadn't paid three years of annual fee assessments to the commission.
In May, the three-person Corporation Commission ruled 2-1 against the staff's proposal after Icon paid the fees. Commissioner Patrice Douglas dissented, saying Icon complied only after being forced to by the public utility division.
“If Icon wants to refile and go through the certification process again, I see no rule prohibiting this,” Douglas wrote in her dissent. “But, in the wake of the problems Icon clearly and undisputedly has in obeying this commission's rules, I would revoke its certificate at this time.”
Oklahoma Lifeline paid $3.8 million in reimbursements to phone providers operating in Oklahoma in fiscal year 2013. A companion federal Lifeline program paid out more than $218 million in federal reimbursements in Oklahoma in 2012.
Icon received more than $25.7 million in federal Lifeline reimbursements in 2012, according to data from the Universal Service Administrative Co., a nonprofit that administers the federal fund.
Icon requested monthly reimbursements of more than $392,000 from the Oklahoma Lifeline program in a Corporation Commission filing in October. That request is pending before the commission.