Telecom services under Lifeline program subject to new reviews starting June 23
Starting on June 23, Puerto Rico consumers applying for subsidized telecommunications services will have to go through the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier to validate that they qualify for services.
On that date, telecommunications carriers that participate in the subsidy program must cease using older eligibility processes to complete enrollments, the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau announced.
Through the Lifeline program, eligible consumers can get a free residential or wireless telephone and free minutes from participating companies. Puerto Rico’s roster of participating companies includes: Claro Puerto Rico; WorldNet; T-Mobile; AT&T Mobility; American Assistance; EnTouch Wireless; Life Wireless; Q Link Wireless; Safelink Wireless; and, StandUP Wireless.
The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC), which runs the Lifelink program, began a soft launch of the new validation system on Oct. 11, 2019 and will now move into the permanent phase. During this period, the USAC has been conducting outreach and training for eligible providers in Puerto Rico.
“As of June 23, 2020, consumers in Puerto Rico can begin to check their eligibility for Lifeline service directly by using the National Verifier consumer portal available at CheckLifeline.org,” the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau said.
“The consumer portal is available in both English and Spanish language versions. Consumers, as well as service providers, will also be able to mail Lifeline program forms and documentation to USAC for manual review,” the Bureau said.
Consumers that may qualify for a free Lifeline phone or smartphone from the government must be participants of any of the following government-paid programs: Medicaid; health insurance; food stamps/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Veterans pension and survivor’s benefit; and, Section 8/Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA).
As part of the transition into the new validation system, local participating telecom companies have accessed a “pre-production test environment” designed to improve their ability to conduct sample transactions using test data that does not reflect actual Lifeline applicants and train their employees. More training opportunities will be available once the National Verifier sytem is launched.
“We emphasize that, even where the National Verifier is fully launched, [telecom carriers] remain responsible for any fraud that forms the basis of their claims for Lifeline reimbursement, and the National Verifier does not provide a ‘safe harbor’ for [companies] that improperly claim or obtain reimbursement,” the FCC said.