Georgia PSC reignites the debate over ‘free’ cell phones

Last fall, as the presidential contest reached a fever pitch, a video raced across the Internet, featuring an African-American woman in Cleveland who praised President Barack Obama for giving her a free cell phone.

“Everybody in Cleveland — low minorities — got Obama phones,” she said.

Critics decried the clip as racist. Politifact awarded its vaunted “Pants on Fire” rating to Republican claims that the president was attempting to buy votes with cell phones.

Even so, tea party forces built a campaign around the video in an unsuccessful attempt to counter criticism Mitt Romney had endured for declaring — in a video captured by the left — that 47 percent of Americans were too dependent on government handouts to vote Republican.

The phone furor died quickly after Nov. 6. But we in Georgia are about to revive it. With a vengeance.

The state Public Service Commission this morning will hold a public hearing on new rules to require recipients of subsidized cell phone service to pony up $5 a month, and to submit a photo ID that cell phone companies would have to keep on file for three years.

If approved – and passage by the all-GOP utility commission is highly likely — these would be the first restrictions on the federal Lifeline program adopted by any state. (A fee approved in California in 2010 has yet to be implemented.)

“I think [the poor] should have skin in the game. I’m not one of those who believe money should be confiscated from one group and given to another group,” said Doug Everett of Albany, the public service commissioner who proposed the $5 fee.

Some background is in order. Fact-checkers have pointed out that the federal program that offers a $9.25-a-month subsidy to provide phone service to the poor was started in the mid-1980s during the Ronald Reagan years, and was upgraded to include cell phones in 2005 under President George W. Bush. The program is financed by monthly surcharges that show up on most landline and wireless phone bills.

About $1.75 billion collected from you, me and others helped pay for 13.7 million landline and wireless phones nationwide in 2011, according to my Journal-Constitution colleague Kristi Swartz. The subsidy only partially funds landline service, but can cover the entire cost of very basic cell phone service.

Until recently, Republicans have been widely supportive of the privately funded program intended to keep the needy in touch with family, friends, potential employers and medical providers. In August 2009, Everett and Gov. Sonny Perdue even hosted a news conference to encourage more people to take advantage of it.

“Access to local emergency services and community resources is vital to our low-income and elderly residents. The commission wants residents to stay connected and is reaching out to those who need phone service but can’t afford it,” Everett said at the time.

But that was before reports of widespread fraud surfaced, Everett said this week.

Lack of oversight and the cell phone explosion allowed many to cheat the program, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees Lifeline.

Some cell phone companies have created business models based solely on offering cell phones – very basic service, with no broadband access — in return for the $9.25 a month subsidies. Fraud has been suspected in as many as one in six cases nationwide.

But the Great Recession has also made the program more important. About 10 percent of all Georgians now get a subsidized phone via Lifeline.

The FCC now requires phone companies to annually recertify recipients of free phone service, to prevent people from receiving multiple phones – as has happened. But Everett is not satisfied – hence his proposed $5 fee, which would apply only to cell phone service.

As an alternative, PSC Chairman Chuck Eaton proposed the photo ID requirement. But the utility commission is a mysterious place, and instead of picking one or the other, the PSC chose both.

Poor people are unlikely to be happy with the new rules. But cell phone companies don’t like them, either. Bobby Baker, a former PSC member and a Republican, will represent six companies at Thursday’s 11 a.m. hearing.

That $5 fee won’t go to the government, but to the phone companies. “None of my clients asked for it, or even want it. Part of it is the billing hassle,” Baker said. The same goes for the headache of maintaining millions of photo ID files.

None of the other charity programs regulated by the PSC – a fund to allow poor residents to keep the heat on during winter, for instance – require fees or photo ID, Baker said.

Worth noting is the fact that neither Everett nor Eaton want to see the Lifeline program disappear – as do many tea partyers who think we have grown too coddled by safety nets in our society.

“There are some people out there that need this, and therefore I don’t want to totally end it,” Everett said. “There are people who are using it properly.”

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me on Facebook.

64 comments Add your comment

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

January 9th, 2013
6:20 pm

And the moral of this story -

The program is financed by monthly surcharges that show up on most landline and wireless phone bills.

There is no limit to where the government will go to pilfer money from those who, get this……earned it.

Kris

January 9th, 2013
6:40 pm

Another GOP (slime ball ) attack on the 47%…More ID more trouble for the poor
While the Slime ball GOP live high on the hog.

Come 2014 the 47% need to get out and Vote the GOP crooks and thieves out..

Do not forget to vote deal out.

Point/Counterpoint

January 9th, 2013
6:46 pm

Why not address the fraud instead of assessing a $5.00/month fee? These people need to get out of their glass bubbles and meet the poor people. These are the elderly, people who’s jobs have been outsourced and now can find only minimum wage part-time work, people working 2 or 3 part-time jobs, who walk to work because they have no car and our area has no bus service. I bet this man is on the front pew at church every Sunday.

Dave

January 9th, 2013
6:54 pm

Did anyone at the AJC bother to ask the guy how a $5 fee and a photo idea will stop whatever the fraud (also not identified) is? Not one of your better efforts.

Reality Check

January 9th, 2013
6:58 pm

Are you 2 serious? Since when is a cell phone an area of need. The government should not be paying for their phones and they certainly shouldn’t be raising taxes to do it.

I swear half of this country is worthless. No one needs a phone if they can’t afford it themselves. Should we but them a computer too?

Kris and Point/Counterpoint – you are the reason these people will never get off food stamps. They will continue to be non productive members of society because it pays more than hard work. My children are going to grow up in a country where laziness is rewarded.

An observer

January 9th, 2013
7:01 pm

Am I glad I do not have a cellphone.

Kris

January 9th, 2013
7:09 pm

@ Reality Check…You need to do a Reality Check….Thanks to the do NOTHING (GOP slime bags) Controlled congress The economy is in the crapper and I hope that that’s where your 401kkk is as well.

Some times people fall on hard times especially folks born that had a silver plated spoon..

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

January 9th, 2013
7:20 pm

But how else will they score their drugs?

Simon Jester

January 9th, 2013
7:29 pm

First – a cell phone is hardly a necessity of life, just one more handout out of MY pocket. If you want to do a reality check, Bush drove the economy into the gutter – Obama drove it off a cliff. Both parties are flat out thieves. One small difference is Dems using handouts (again, out of our pockets) to buy votes.

Reality Check

January 9th, 2013
7:31 pm

Kris – I was talking about the GOP. I am an independent.

So please tell me why we should be giving them cell phones? Since when is that a need and not a luxury?

Dave

January 9th, 2013
7:36 pm

Reality Check, you, me and everyone else have been subsidizing communications for decades now. We pay on our phone bills to subsidize the cost of landline phones in rural areas. Phone companies in rural areas have been running long distance scams that cost us money for the same many decades. What’s the difference between that subsidy and the one discussed in the piece. Phone service is phone service. If cell phones are cheaper than landlines, and I’m not sure they are, are you mad because the people getting the discount are poor and not farmers?

Dave

January 9th, 2013
7:41 pm

Here’s a link to an article on rural subsidy close to home, here in Georgia. Again, all of you again, rural is okay, poor not so much?

http://www.gpb.org/news/2011/09/05/psc-reviews-rural-phone-subsidies

Dave

January 9th, 2013
7:41 pm

The second again in my last comment should be “agin.”

lugnut

January 9th, 2013
7:42 pm

What about flat screen TV’s capable of 3D with a diagonal measurement of at least 40″? Are poor people consiged to watching an old CRT? Tax more, take more, increase the size of government, and get those HDTV’s out there! And don’t forget the free cable with HDTV!

Weetamoe

January 9th, 2013
7:46 pm

According to circulars I receive in the mail, the give-away is more than basic—there are more features than I have on my own cell phone. The circular lists requirements for the free phone– any one of a half-dozen other government freebies *entitles* the recipient to a phone. There are such items as subsidized (section 8) housing or EBT. I am not sure how I got on the list, since I receive no government benefits, nor do I need any. I am not in the 47%–nor am I in the 1%. I’m just in the percent that pays the way for the other percenters.

Weetamoe

January 9th, 2013
7:49 pm

The previous post included the term section 8–sorry for the smirker that snuck in

Cherokee

January 9th, 2013
7:49 pm

Good grief, will your faux outrage never cease.

This costs a couple cents a month, and gives these people access to employers, job interviews, doctors for their kids, etc.

I trust you people don’t sit in a church pew on Sunday…

Just Nasty & Mean

January 9th, 2013
7:56 pm

Kris, some of those people you speak of who “fall on hard times” are in the 3rd or 4th generation of having Uncle Sam as their daddy. Taxpayers have spent TRILLION$ since the Johnson Administration and it hasn’t solved anything—and just keeps getting worse!

And I am telling you and all the other bleeding heart liberals so willing to spend my hard earned money—I am SICK OF IT. This country was build on rugged individualism and not some patsy government picking up the tab for your every need.

GET YOUR OWN DAMN PHONE!!

td

January 9th, 2013
8:06 pm

Cherokee

January 9th, 2013
7:49 pm

Good grief,

You are right that it is a big good grief that we keep propping up the people that refuse to do the right thing.

Lesson should be: When you choose not to get and education, not develop a marketable skill set and have children outside of wedlock or divorce without the necessary skill set to support yourself then you are going to be POOR and the government should not bail you out of the choices you have made.

Simon Jester

January 9th, 2013
8:06 pm

I’ll make it real simple. If the government is taking from me or anyone else, and giving it to someone else, it is theft, no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. It is wrong for ANY reason.

Skip

January 9th, 2013
8:08 pm

Ain’t it great to hate.

Dave

January 9th, 2013
8:09 pm

Simon, I hope you are in the no taxes paid group of people, otherwise you should call the police because you are a theft victim each and every year.

Predatory Lender

January 9th, 2013
8:22 pm

Hey Jim. Check out the lashing from Fulton County Judge on Sec. Kemp regarding the politicking he did, botching the Bibb / Monroe County boarder war…..Monroe County wins this one. Kemp could leave this issue alone now after already misusing his power once. Wonder if he will repeat the same? Somehow these junkies keep coming back. What a shame! Shame on you Brian!

Simon Jester

January 9th, 2013
8:34 pm

Yes I am a victim of theft by government on an ongoing basis. Doesn’t make it right. What on earth does “hate” have to do with it? The only thing I hate about it is being robbed at gun point by the government.

Dave

January 9th, 2013
8:38 pm

I don’t think I mentioned hate. But the solution is clear, go off to the boonies, quit paying taxes and do it all on your own – no roads, no electricity, no schools and so on. No one around to hate even if you wanted to.

ld

January 9th, 2013
8:40 pm

Any and all money paid w/taxpayer funds to anyone as subsidy or charity or aid of any kind or nature by any government entity, either directly to any individiual or on behalf of an indivdiual SHOULD require security state photo ID to prevent “fraud, waste and abuse”. Reasonably completed records of taxpayer paid assistance being given should be created by the managing gov’t entity and entered into a single national Department of Family and Children’s Services database which can be audited regularly with computer programs specifically designed to compare info given by the applicants for that taxpayer paid aid in order to prevent, seek out and prosecute fraud — NOT just to prosecute the individuals receiving the aid but also to prosecute corrupt administrators and providers, Medicare, Medicaid included. These records should available to law enforcement that are investigating any person on those lists for any reason and, in fact, a joint federal-state task force should be created within existing FBI and all state police entities to cooperate in agressively identifying that dreaded “fraud, waste and abuse” — which, everyone should recall, all polititions keep saying exists — especially when they are looking for an alternative expense to cut rather than cut their own district’s pet projects. There should be reasonable requirement that multiple and/or repeat offenders MUST be prosecuted.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

January 9th, 2013
8:44 pm

Think about it for a minute – anyone in need of genuine “help” wouldn’t mind complying with the requirements. Why do the obozobots continue to make it easy for ANYONE to grab what they can?

ld

January 9th, 2013
8:50 pm

Anyone that does not understand that their personal info is already in multiple government computers and computers of numerous private owned for profit companies is delusional. It is time for a national requirement for a secure state photo ID for every person over the age of three years, with the requirement that those that the legal guardians of minors and/or of any persons that are too physically and/or mentally ill to get their own must assure that their wards have one, AND this requirement should specifically including for all “visitors” (illegals) to this country that are not carrying a passport — this, it seems, will be a necessary first step toward any meaningful fraud prevention in the area of taxpayer paid aid, taxes, etc., specifically including immigration reform.

Simon Jester

January 9th, 2013
8:51 pm

No, the hate comment was aimed at skip. Kinda like th folks that always scream racist. Really doesn’t have any intelligence behind it. What LITTLE that government can LEGITIMATELY provide, can be paid for by users fees. If you don’t pay, you don’t use. The vast majority of “services” supplied by the government are not legitimate powers of government. We have the current situation because enough people believe that it is ok for the government to steal from one person and give it to another. Government can have no legitimate power that the people don’t have, as all government powers come from the people. If the government has the power to steal from me and give to you, then either I have that same power, or it is not a valid power of government.

The fact that so many people are ignorant of this says a great deal about government schools.

Don't Tread

January 9th, 2013
9:10 pm

It’s amazing that Democrats are adamantly against any effort to curb fraud, abuse, and waste in government when it comes to any form of welfare. Get rid of the waste, fraud, and abuse and more people can be helped using the same amount of money, or the same number of people can be helped using less money.

Oh wait….silly me, I’m forgetting the obvious – it’s not really as much about helping formerly gainfully employed people who have fallen on hard times as it is about perpetual vote-buying using someone else’s money!

If you rob from Peter to give to Paul, you can always count on Paul’s support at election time. :roll:

Phones are the first necessity to get a job

January 9th, 2013
9:15 pm

Reality Check is another GOP lackey. Try getting a job without a phone, big shot. These Country Club Republicans are the biggest threat to our Democracy. Their greed and trying to keep their entitled spawn in control of anything that they can lose to others based on merit instead of birth privilege is what these haters are all about.

All this hate-driven drivel about governemnt taking comes from Boooredtz and Limbagg, etc.–they both need to be turned out to the GOP golf courses that they have the state government subsidize for them (Deal’s DNR now runs six golf courses for the elites–their idea of a state park–tewo have airports and Brasstown has a heliport.) Choke on that elitists hate mongers.

Buckhead Boy

January 9th, 2013
10:11 pm

The preponderance of the fraud is perpetrated by the providers, not the individual recipients; just as is the case with Medicaid fraud, etc. Of course, the providers have lobbyists and lawyers, and make political contributions; while suggesting non-substantive measures burdening the powerless poor plays well with a class of voters. Risk avoidance coupled with demagoguery says a lot about the politician, but more about the man; and a whole lot more about the people who fall for this.

double

January 9th, 2013
10:26 pm

Some background is in order. Fact-checkers have pointed out that the federal program that offers a $9.25-a-month subsidy to provide phone service to the poor was started in the mid-1980s during the Ronald Reagan years, and was upgraded to include cell phones in 2005 under President George W. Bush. The program is financed by monthly surcharges that show up on most landline and wireless phone bills.Oh my Obamaphone,like manna from above.

advice

January 10th, 2013
12:09 am

Started by Reagan, enhanced by Bush, but cons still call them “Obamaphones.” Nope. No racism here. Just ignorance, selective memory and a mean streak. The real winners here are the phone companies, who have lobbied big time for these subsidies, as it lets them suck up more money from paying customers, without competition (since they’ll stick you with the charge) and get phones in the hands of more people, which ultimately drives up profits. It adds millions to their revenues.

jaypat

January 10th, 2013
1:24 am

TOTALLY OFF TOPIC

Long-time readers of “Political Insider” may be interested to know that a sometime poster to this blog–”Beowolf”–is the originator of the concept of the “Trillion Dollar Coin.”

This has driven the Republicans completely crazy and over the cliff. It has finally exposed, for all to see, how goofy these people really are.

They now have a commercial out claiming that the “Titanic” would sink if it held enough platinum to yield $1 trillion. Never mind that the dollar is not now, nor has it been in the last 40 years, dependent on how much gold, or silver, or titanium. The Republicans tell us that we’re going to sink. They’re full of $hit. All of them, including Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.

There is a very long history of consumer spending that drives economic growth. Money in the hands ofr consumers is what drives the economy.

[...] Georgia Public Service Commission will consider two measures to combat allegations of fraud in the f…. The state Public Service Commission this morning will hold a public hearing on new rules to [...]

Edmund Ruffin

January 10th, 2013
6:58 am

Any use of public money to buy, or in any way pay for, phones, cell phones, computers, food, liquor, lotto tickets, or about a 1,000 or other things government uses money for is unconstitutional. Not that any politician out there gives a rip.

Rightwing Troll

January 10th, 2013
7:05 am

I’m appalled… we need to end Reagan/Bush phones now!!!

Skip

January 10th, 2013
7:11 am

Why is a Black used as the face of free phones when most go to Whites?

stands for decibels

January 10th, 2013
7:29 am

“I’m not one of those who believe money should be confiscated from one group and given to another group,” said Doug Everett of Albany

“Confiscated.”

This man is a commissioner. Entrusted with making policy decisions. And he refers to tax collection as “confiscation.”

stands for decibels

January 10th, 2013
7:30 am

It’s amazing that Democrats are adamantly against any effort to curb fraud, abuse, and waste in government when it comes to any form of welfare.

Kindly tell me why it is “fraud, abuse, and waste” to provide the means to communicate with potential employers to those who need to do so.

stands for decibels

January 10th, 2013
7:38 am

Why is a Black used as the face of free phones when most go to Whites?

For the same reason that virtually every online conservative is aware of one (1) lady who exuberantly declared in October of 2008 that “I won’t have to worry about putting gas in my car. I won’t have to worry about paying my mortgage.” For the same reason said online conservatives have claimed that what she said was “Obama will pay for my gas and my mortgage.” For the same reason that this one (1) lady became, to these online conservatives, became the composite “Obama voter.”

I’m not sure how to put that reason into words. Some people say “these online conservatives are just racist f-ckwits,” and I suppose that idea has some merit, but it’s probably even more pathetic than that.

honested

January 10th, 2013
8:02 am

Why is the PSC wasting time on this nonsense when they should be busy freeing Georgians from the yoke of the Southern Company and promoting clean, sustainable energy?

honested

January 10th, 2013
8:03 am

jaypat,

Thanks!

MINT THE COIN!

curious

January 10th, 2013
8:10 am

Why not ask George W Bush why he expanded Reagan’s program to include cell phones?

TiredOfIt

January 10th, 2013
8:27 am

If you don’t agree with it, cancel your cellphone contract. No one is making you own one. Problem solved.

Buymadeinusjobs

January 10th, 2013
9:08 am

I like it, tiredofit, if folks do not want to pay for poor to have cellphone, then cancel your own cellphone/landline and you will not be charged any taxes and you will find out the values of phone service to call 911, etc. If you pay for cable, you may want to cancel that , they collect about $10 fee a month to pay for c-span, other public affairs things, I enjoy c-span so I can hear the politicians in Washington[ from the horses mouth] when they go to work 120 days a year for about 174,000 dollars a year salary with pension and healthcare benefits. Register all voters, run for office at local , state and federal office, the pay is good.

Also Why should taxpayers pay for building/maintaining sports facilities, golf facilities, travel/training/meetings for politicians, ports, arts etc? How many low paid/unemployed get/can afford to use these facilities?

homeschooler

January 10th, 2013
9:16 am

As a 18 yr employee of Department of Family and Children Services I believe the problem could be solved by going back to the program ONLY subsidizing landlines. The problems with fraud started when they included cell phones as freebees. Nobody is going to lie, cheat or steal for a landline yet a landline would solve the problem of helping people get jobs, get in touch with doctors etc.
I can tell you a observation based on my experience with the lower socioeconomic classes of all races. Their cell phones are their priority. They are often not responsible for paying for food or rent. Their electricity might be cut off or their water from time to time or even their cell phones but the phone is the FIRST thing to be turned back on. Another observation. Most people with a government phone have at least one other phone in their household. Often a smart phone.
I do see a need for the program. People have to realize that pay phones are no longer available. Pay for the landlines, period. And don’t bill the 5 dollars a month. I can see how that would be a pain in the butt for the phone companies. Then it brings up the question “do they shut the phone off if they don’t pay?” Send a 15 dollar past due to the collection agencies? Just pay for landlines for those who qualify. They would see a huge decrease in those applying for the lines because most people won’t go to the trouble to apply. They’d rather pay for a cell phone.

Cutty

January 10th, 2013
9:41 am

While expected, it’s completely laughable to see these so-called fiscal conservatives blame Obama or any democrat for this policy. It was started by your beloved deity, Ronald Reagan, and expanded by the Shrub. If you’re so upset by it, you should lay blame at those deficit hawk republicans still in Congress that voted for this. I’m sure some are from the Georgia delegation. That would be too much like right, and we know republicans blame everyone else but themselves for everything.

Aquagirl

January 10th, 2013
9:42 am

I can tell you a observation based on my experience with the lower socioeconomic classes of all races. Their cell phones are their priority. They are often not responsible for paying for food or rent.

For not liking the “lower socioeconomic classes” you sure spend a lot of time stalking them.