On March 13, 2013, Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Genachowski to "express concern about the state of the Lifeline program" and asking the FCC to "immediately" make radical changes to the program.  The senator, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which is responsible for telecommunications regulatory policy, proposed the following changes:

  • Categorically prohibiting prepaid wireless providers and wireless resellers from providing Lifeline-supported services;
  • Placing a "hard cap" on the program with a budget "far below" its current level;
  • Placing a "freeze" on all new Lifeline service provider certifications;
  • Conducting an "immediate investigation" into "all" Lifeline providers; and
  • Studying the "effectiveness" and "actual cost" of the program.

The letter suggests that funds currently used to support low income individuals instead should be used to increase subsidy payments to rural telephone companies.

Finally, the letter repeats a common misconception about recent efforts by Lifeline providers to "re-certify" their subscribers, stating that "41 percent of current Lifeline recipients served by the top five wireless Lifeline participants ... have not been properly certified to participate."  In fact, Lifeline participants who failed to respond during the re-certification process already have been de-enrolled from the program.  Moreover, a participant’s failure to re-certify (i.e., qualify for eligibility a second time) does not mean that the individual was never qualified or certified to participate in the first place.  It simply means that low income individuals – a demographic with high levels of transiency and low levels of literacy – failed to respond to a government-mandated survey replete with arcane legalese.