On January 27, 2014 the California Public Utilities Commission ("PUC") issued a unanimous Decision in the California LifeLine proceeding.  The Decision allows wireless carriers to participate in the California LifeLine program for the first time and sets forth requirements that carriers must meet in order to participate.

In order to receive state LifeLine funds, carriers previously designated as ETCs in California must file with the PUC a "Tier II Advice Letter", which is deemed approved after 30 days unless suspended by staff.  Non-ETC wireless carriers must file a "Tier III Advice Letter", which is subject to formal approval by the PUC.  The Decision allows wireless carriers to elect to provide LifeLine service as federal-only ETCs.  These carriers are not subject to the requirements of the Decision, but will not receive state funds.  The Decision also does not require that carriers be designated as ETCs in order to participate in the California LifeLine program.

Some of the Decision's most significant requirements for participants in the state program include:

  • California LifeLine wireless providers must offer subscribers at least 501 minutes of use per month.
  • For service plans that offer between 501 and 999 minutes per month, the monthly reimbursement will be $6.25 per subscriber (in addition to $9.25 in federal funds).
  • For plans that offer 1,000 or more minutes per month, the fixed reimbursement will be $13.15 per subscriber (in addition to $9.25 in federal funds).
  • Calls to customer service may not count against the subscriber’s allotted voice minutes.
  • For plans with 1,000 minutes or more, calls to "N11" numbers (e.g., 911, 611 and 311) may not count against the subscriber’s allotted voice minutes.  However, a carrier can meet this requirement by offering a plan with unlimited voice minutes.
  • The California LifeLine discount must be available on all qualifying plans that the carrier offers its non-LifeLine subscribers and LifeLine carriers must offer its LifeLine subscribers all handsets offered to non-LifeLine subscribers.

The PUC will hold a subsequent phase in this proceeding to address additional issues including:

  • Whether and how VoIP providers can participate in the California LifeLine Program.
  • Extending California LifeLine accessibility to eligible low-income California-resident households without Social Security Numbers.
  • Possible changes to the process for designating ETCs.