On January 16, 2013, in an acrimonious 3-2 vote, the Georgia PSC adopted revisions to its rule governing Lifeline service in the state (Rule 515-12-1-.35) to, among other things, institute a minimum monthly rate for lifeline service of $5 and to require Lifeline providers to review and retain a copy of a photo ID of each Lifeline applicant.  The full text of the amended rule is below.  By another divided vote, the PSC also initiated a new rulemaking proposing to change the minimum rate language to require every ETC to both “bill and collect” that minimum rate, and to eliminate the just-adopted photo ID requirement.  One Commissioner described the proposal to revise the minimum rate language as requiring ETCs to “not just charge the $5 but to actually collect it.

The three Commissioners who voted for the $5 minimum rate indicated their hostility to the Lifeline program itself, calling it a “luxury item” that “people don’t like.” Commissioner Wise argued strongly against the minimum rate, saying that it is “ill-advised and inappropriate” and “an attempt to shut down the program for the appearance of stopping fraud,” and that it would “punish participants.”  He invited ETCs to challenge the legality of a minimum rate rule.

Text of new rule: 515-12-1-.35 Eligible Telecommunications Carriers.

(1)  An Eligible Telecommunications Carrier must meet the requirements set forth in 47 U.S.C. § 214(e)(1)(A) and (B) and all regulations duly promulgated by the Federal Communications Commission set forth in 47 C.F.R. part 54, Subpart C (Carriers Eligible for Universal Service Support), Subpart D (Universal Service Support for High Cost Areas), or Subpart E (Universal Service Support for Low-Income Consumers).  Any compliance filing required by the FCC pursuant to 47 C.F.R. part 54, Subpart C, Subpart D, or Subpart E shall be filed with the Commission within fifteen (15) days of filing with the FCC.

(2)  The following additional requirements shall apply to all carriers designated as Eligible Telecommunications Carriers by the Commission: (a)  An Eligible Telecommunications Carrier shall satisfactorily resolve within a reasonable time period any and all complaints filed against it with the Commission’s Consumer Affairs Unit. (b)  An Eligible Telecommunications Carrier shall advertise the availability of Lifeline service on its internet website. (c)  An Eligible Telecommunications Carrier shall not charge usage (i.e., decrement minutes) or charge fees of any kind for calls to customer service.

(3)  The following additional requirements shall apply to carriers designated as Eligible Telecommunications Carriers by the Commission for the purpose of receiving Universal Service Support for Low-Income Consumers:

(a)  Eligibility for Lifeline shall be determined by the criteria set forth in 47 C.F.R. §§ 54.409 and 54.410 or by a determination that the consumer is eligible for the senior citizen low-income discount plan offered by the consumer’s local gas or power company.

(b)  Eligible Telecommunications Carriers shall file the number of Lifeline subscribers that the carrier serves in the State of Georgia as of June 30th and December 31st of each year.  The report shall be filed 15 days from the close of the period.

(c)  Lifeline materials including advertisements, application forms, and verification forms must include the following language: “Unresolved complaints concerning Lifeline service can be directed to the Georgia Public Service Commission’s Consumer Affairs Unit at [local and toll free number for the Consumer Affairs Unit].”

(d)  Any proposed increases in a carrier’s least cost service rate available to Lifeline customers, any increase in connection charges, or the addition of any proposed surcharges, other than those specifically provided for in State or Federal law, shall require 30 days written notice to the Commission.

(e)  An Eligible Telecommunications Carrier shall include its lowest cost service offering in all Lifeline advertisements.

(f)  An Eligible Telecommunications Carrier shall charge a monthly service rate of $5 per month after application of the Federal Lifeline discount.

(g)  Eligible Telecommunications Carriers shall require applicants for Lifeline benefits to produce photo identification and each Eligible Telecommunications Carrier shall review and retain a copy of such photo identification for a period of not less than three (3) years.