Phone Assistance Program for the Needy Truly a Life Saver

A program advocated by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to help the needy afford phone basic service, Lifeline, is a perfect match for its name.

Lifeline helped over 500,000 Pennsylvanians last year maintain basic phone service vital for staying connected with family and friends, and first responders during emergencies. The PUC and Pennsylvania’s incumbent phone companies are reaching out to thousands of others who might be eligible for Lifeline but aren’t aware of its existence.

PUC Commissioner Pam Witmer issued a statement on September 10, during National Lifeline Awareness Week, to memorialize those killed in the plane brought down in Shanksville on September 11, 2001, and remind us of the importance of maintaining phone service.

“As the nation, and certainly the families and friends of those who gave their lives in Shanksville for the protection of our nation’s capital prepares for the anniversary of 9/11 this week, it is even more important for everyone in today’s increasingly interconnected world to have a lifeline to emergency services, friends and family,” Witmer said. “We are calling upon government agencies, industry leaders and consumer advocates to educate residents about state and federal programs for telephone connectivity‚Ķ”

Lifeline relies on the networks built and maintained by the state’s incumbent carriers, many of whom cover rural areas where miles can separate neighbors.¬† Without Lifeline and the networks, many would be completely isolated.

Steven J. Samara, president of the Pennsylvania Telephone Association, said that the comprehensive networks maintained by the rural carriers, or RLECs, puts Pennsylvania right at the top in the nation for Lifeline reliability and penetration.

“No one should be denied basic phone service,” Samara said. “With Lifeline’s help and our continued commitment to the networks no one will.”

The RLECs are also responsible for Pennsylvania having one of the most complete broadband deployment networks in the nation.

Lifeline is funded through a federal program, the Universal Service Fund (USF), administered by the Federal Communications Commission.

On the state level, the PUC administers a separate USF that also works to maintain affordable and dependable service, which includes those in some of the most remote areas of the state.

“The Pennsylvania USF is critical to our maintaining service not only for our neediest customers but for those who are hardest and costliest to reach,” Samara said.

Lifeline is available to those enrolled in certain public assistance programs or those with incomes at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Today that means a family of four making $32,198 a year or less.