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Regulators launch review of Lifeline phone program in Oklahoma

After complaints of fraud and abuse in the Lifeline phone program for low-income households, the public utility division of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has launched a comprehensive review of how to improve the program.
by Paul Monies Modified: September 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm •  Published: September 12, 2013
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Douglas said it appears Oklahoma is getting a disproportionate share of the funding under the federal program. She asked staff to gather numbers on the number of Lifeline subscribers in the state and how that compares to other states.

Commissioner Bob Anthony said some of that information is available in telecom company annual reports, which are not public documents and treated as confidential under commission rules.

16 areas of concern

The notice of inquiry lists 16 areas of study. Among them is how telephone companies enroll and verify low-income customers in the program. It also asks if there might be a better way to determine Lifeline assistance for tribal customers.

Federal Lifeline typically offers reimbursements of $9 per eligible household. Companies serving customers on tribal land can get another $25 in reimbursements under the enhanced version of Lifeline.

The federal Lifeline program started in 1985 for landlines and expanded in 2008 to include wireless service. The state's Lifeline program dates to 1997. State lawmakers tightened the customer verification requirements this year under House Bill 2165.

Corporation commissioners approved a schedule with two technical conferences on Oct. 14 and Nov. 7 in Oklahoma City. A hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Nov. 21.

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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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.”

Patrice Douglas,
Corporation Commission Chairwoman

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