PUC Promotes Lifeline Awareness Week, Helps Consumers “Stay Connected”

JOHNSTOWN – In conjunction with a national initiative to promote Lifeline telephone discount program awareness, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) joined the Community Action Partnership of Cambria County, other state agencies and industry representatives to help residents “stay connected” and learn about rules regarding eligibility at the Head Start Center, Johnstown.

“In today’s increasingly interconnected world, telecommunications services provide a vital lifeline to emergency services, friends, and family. No Pennsylvanian should be left out simply because they cannot afford such services,” said PUC Commissioner Pamela Witmer. “During 2012 there were 589,054 Pennsylvanians using the Lifeline programs. We hope that by raising awareness of Lifeline, we can ensure that more consumers have the necessary communication to contact a possible employer, their families, and life-saving services.”

Recently, the FCC changed its rules governing program eligibility and non-duplication of support to improve program efficiency and ensure those that need support can receive it. Federal rules prohibit eligible low-income consumers from receiving more than one Lifeline discount per household.

The state’s Office of Consumer Advocate, Verizon, the Pennsylvania Telephone Association and the Community Action Partnership of Cambria County joined the PUC at today’s event to promote the Lifeline and Link-Up Assistance Programs, which offer discounts to help residents gain access to basic local telephone service.

“Pennsylvania’s rural local exchange carriers are equally proud of the network which they have constructed in the Commonwealth and that our state is consistently near the top in national rankings on penetration rates. Telecommunications companies, regulators, and legislators all realize that the more individuals using the telephone network, the more valuable that network becomes,” said Steve Samara, President of the Pennsylvania Telephone Association. “The Lifeline programs are excellent tools to keep folks on the network and give them access to the beneficial services which Pennsylvania’s carriers are providing.”

“The Lifeline program can help eligible Pennsylvania households afford telephone service so that they can stay in touch with family, schools, doctors, and employers,” said Barrett Sheridan, Assistant Consumer Advocate for the Office of Consumer Advocate. “Through these Lifeline Awareness events, I hope that more Pennsylvania consumers can learn about how to apply for Lifeline service, who is eligible, and how to annually confirm their continued eligibility for Lifeline service. Households that qualify for Lifeline telephone service may have only one service per household, whether wireline or wireless.”

Bill Carnahan with Verizon said, “Verizon is committed to offering Lifeline, which provides our eligible, low-income Pennsylvania customers a monthly discount to help them afford their basic local telephone service. Through the efforts of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission during Lifeline Awareness Week, more low-income residents will hear about this worthwhile program.”

The Lifeline 135 program is available for customers of all qualified telephone service providers. Under the program, customers who participate in certain public assistance programs, or who have income at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines (currently $31,793 for a family of four) can receive a discount on their monthly local phone service for one telephone line. The discounts are paid out of the federal Universal Service Fund, which is subsidized by contributions from all telephone customers.

In an effort to increase awareness about the program, the PUC developed an informational brochure, “Follow the PATH to PA Telephone Help” to provide information about Lifeline and other available programs for limited-income consumers. Copies of the brochure can be obtained by calling the PUC at 1-800-692-7380 or on the PUC website. Consumers also are encouraged to reach out to their local telephone company to see if they qualify for Lifeline and other available programs for limited-income telephone customers. Last year, the PUC debuted a public service announcement to increase awareness.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities; ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protects the public interest; educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; furthers economic development; and fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner.

For recent news releases and video of select Commission proceedings or more information about the PUC, visit our website at www.puc.pa.gov. Follow the PUC on Twitter – @PA_PUC for all things utility. “Like” PAPowerSwitch on Facebook for easy access to information on electric shopping.

Denise McCracken
Deputy Press Secretary