T-Mobile and NTCH, owner of the Cleartalk brand, will be able to collect money from the Lifeline low-income portion of the Universal Service program in certain states as the result of action taken by the FCC late last week. Both carriers had asked the commission to grant them ETC status so that they could participate in the program, which is funded by the telecom industry and pays about $9 per household toward the cost of voice service.
T-Mobile was granted ETC status for the purpose of providing Lifeline services in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Virginia and the District of Columbia. NTCH was conditionally granted limited designation as a Lifeline ETC in North Carolina and Tennessee.
Originally the Lifeline program was directed toward traditional landline phone service, but in recent years some states have allowed funding to be used for wireless service and in January the FCC made that an option nationwide. Various wireless carriers already offer Lifeline services. Sprint, for example, has one of the most aggressive programs, offering Lifeline service for no net charge to end users in 34 states through its Assurance Wireless brand. The offering includes 250 minutes of voice service and 250 text messages per month, with customers having the option to pay an additional fee to get more minutes or messages. Sprint views the offering as a way of getting new subscribers at a time when wireless adoption rates have become saturated.
According to last week’s FCC order, NTCH plans to charge $29.95 a month before the Lifeline discount for unlimited voice service with no credit checks, deposits or long-term contracts. T-Mobile’s pricing was not stated, but the commission did note that the carrier will offer preset monthly rates with additional minutes for purchase at the “low rate of $0.05 per minute.”
States have primary responsibility for determining whether carriers meet requirements for ETC status, but both T-Mobile and NTCH demonstrated that they were not subject to the jurisdiction of the various state commissions, the order states. In that situation, the FCC may designate ETC status after considering factors such as the carrier’s financial and technical capability and its ability to remain functional in emergency situations.
The FCC order does not indicate whether T-Mobile or NTCH previously were granted ETC status in any states not covered by last week’s order and neither carrier respond to an inquiry from Telecompetitor in time for today’s deadline.
The T-Mobile and NTCH news comes just a few weeks after the FCC said it had freed up $43 million since January through reforms to the Lifeline program. These savings were due, in part, to tighter program controls such as using public information sources to confirm applicants’ eligibility for coverage. Some of the savings also resulted from the elimination of the Linkup program, which paid for a portion of voice service installation fees.
The FCC plans to use a portion of the money it saved to fund a pilot test of a low-income program for broadband service.
UPDATE: A T-Mobile spokesperson confirmed later today that in addition to the states referenced in last week’s FCC order, the company has received ETC status to offer Lifeline services in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and Washington.