TALLAHASSEE – Attorney General Charlie Crist’s petition to interve…

TALLAHASSEE – Attorney General Charlie Crist’s petition to intervene
on behalf of Florida telephone customers was formally granted yesterday,
allowing him to join a previously filed petition from Florida’s Public
Counsel and AARP, that asks the Public Service Commission to order Florida phone companies to automatically enroll eligible low-income residents in the Lifeline telephone service. The PSC notified the Attorney General that his petition to join the case had been granted.

The Lifeline program provides low-priced telephone services designed
to ensure that basic telephone service remains affordable to all residents of Florida. The services are intended to provide consumers who otherwise might not be able to afford telephone service with life-saving
communication opportunities. Crist filed the petition with the PSC last
week to support the request of Public Counsel Harold McLean and AARP, whose petition noted that fewer than 13 percent of qualifying Florida residents participate in the program, meaning more than 1 million eligible households do not take advantage of the available benefits.

“I am pleased to join the fight for this life-saving program on
behalf of Floridians,” said Crist. “Citizens deserve fair rates without
having to jump through hoops or over obstacles.”

Floridians and the State of Florida are not receiving the financial
benefits that are deserved from contributions they make to fund universal
support services, including Lifeline. In 2003, Florida contributed more
than $44 million into the federal fund that pays for Lifeline, but only
received $15.5 million in return, losing more than $29 million. In 2004,
Floridians paid more than $385 million to the universal service fund, but
received little more than $137 million in support for Lifeline and other
support services, resulting in a loss of almost a quarter of a billion
dollars. Increasing participation in Lifeline will help to reduce that
deficit and increase the benefits to eligible Floridians. Additionally,
Lifeline Assistance can save eligible consumers as much as $160 per year on telephone services.

Under the proposal by McLean, AARP and Crist, telephone companies
would be required to work with the Department of Children and Families to
enroll all Floridians who would qualify for the assistance. Examples of
those who qualify include Floridians who are on food stamps or who request
federal public housing assistance and other assistance programs. More
information on eligibility is available at:
http://www.floridapsc.com/utilities/telecomm/lifeline/engbrochure.aspx.

A copy of the PSC’s order granting intervention is available at:
http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/MRAY-6UYGGU/$file/Lifeline_Order.pdf

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