There’ll be lobbying in Sacramento and around the state this week to try to stop a bill (AB 1407) that critics say is a telecoms industry attempt to take away the Public Utility Commission’s authority to adopt a program that meets the needs of communities. According to advocates for LifeLine, the discounted phone service for seniors, the disabled and others, the CPUC has been doing fine and moving toward making mobile phones part of the program. According to the Utility Action Network’s organizing director Ana Montes, that’s just what the body should be doing.
“We say the Commission has been doing its job for the first time in a long time,” she declared. “They’re moving it along at a pace that we feel is appropriate.”
Some people have been trying to label the federal LifeLine program “Obamaphones,” after uncovering what they say is duplication and waste in the program. Defenders say the charges are overblown and that LifeLine phones are invaluable in low-income communities.
Priya Sawheny, who works with disadvantaged residents of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District as organizer, Central City SRO Collaborative, said she’s against any interference with a program that puts phones in the hands of people who need them for more than just medical emergencies.
“Not having a phone can mean the difference between life and death,” she said. “I certainly don’t think those are the parameters of LifeLine. It definitely extends to, you know, getting in touch with your family and trying to get a job, because those are all parts of moving on. This is a very tough community to live in.”
Ana Montes said the attacks on LifeLine stem from a big effort by some companies to market mobile phones to low-income communities and, she said, the system in effect didn’t properly track who was actually subscribing to the phones.
“There were some issues. They weren’t as bad as it’s being touted,” she declared. “And some of the stories we’ve heard are so inflated; they’re just not true.”
Montes praised CPUC Commissioner Catherine Sandoval and said there’s no need to take LifeLines out of the Commission’s control.
“What we’re seeing in California is, we’re seeing a Commissioner who is actually going out and collecting input from consumers as she directs this proceeding on what a California wireless LifeLine program should look like,” Montes stated.
California is considering creating a program more robust than the federal LifeLIne wireless program, requiring carriers to offer more minutes and access to local 911 service.