Questions over govt free cell phone program

LITTLE ROCK, AR — There are new concerns over a taxpayer program that provides free cell phones to needy Central Arkansas families.

Thursday, FOX16 cameras found a free cell phone stand at a Benton gas station, operating under the federal Lifeline program.

Before getting a phone, applicants must first show some form of government assistance. But one person FOX16 spoke with Thursday off camera says he didn’t show anything.

Geraldine Glidewell says she got a phone from the location last month and she also did not show any documentation.

“I didn’t have anything to show,” said Glidewell.

Life Wireless is the carrier providing phones at the Benton location. When we tried to get a response from the contractor on site, he quickly shut down.

“I’m closed sir,” said the unidentified man.

Gas station managers tell us the representative has been set up at the location for at least two months. But now he is no longer welcome.

“Oh no he is not coming back,” said store manager Monica Purtle.

Jim Carpenter, a senior vice president with Life Wireless, released this statement regarding the incident:

“Life Wireless is committed to preserving the integrity of the Lifeline program and helping those most in need obtain phone service. It is a tenet of Life Wireless policy, practice, and training that our sales representatives require potential customers to provide documentation proving eligibility for the Lifeline program before they are enrolled.

Any violation of this practice is rare and in direct violation of company policy. Any sales representatives found to be in violation of this policy will be disciplined or terminated.

We screen our sales representatives carefully and have a strong track record of reducing instances of fraud. All of our sales representatives undergo extensive training, and we perform unannounced field audits to ensure that company policies are upheld.”

Remarks from FCC:

Over the past 25 years, Lifeline has helped tens of millions of low-income Americans afford basic phone service, keeping them connected to jobs, family, and opportunities. However, as the program evolved in 2005 to include increasingly popular and useful low-cost wireless service offerings, its rules to protect against waste, fraud and abuse failed to keep pace. Any kind of waste in this important program is unacceptable. That’s why the FCC has completely overhauled Lifeline.

Earlier this year, the FCC adopted comprehensive reform projected to save $2 billion over three years, including eliminating unnecessary subsidies for initial connections, known as LinkUp. These reforms also now require many carriers – mostly wireless resellers – to file plans detailing how they will comply with new rules. Until their compliance plans are approved, these companies will receive no Lifeline support in new markets.

We have already eliminated over 400,000 duplicate subscriptions after examining millions of records in 15 states in a process that is continuing. In early 2013, we will launch a new National Lifeline Accountability Database that will prevent and eliminate duplicate Lifeline subscriptions permanently. Meanwhile, investigations by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau are ongoing.

We will not allow a few bad actors to destroy a program that has provided a lifeline to emergency 911 calling, family, and jobs for so many low-income Americans.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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