AT&T is taking heat for its request to withdraw from Ohio’s Lifeline program, which subsidizes phone and internet services for the elderly, veterans and low-income households.
Tuesday, leaders from the NAACP, Ohio Poverty Law Center, Alliance for Retired Americans, ProgressOhio and Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 4 asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to reject AT&T’s request.
AT&T’s abandonment of the Lifeline program would hurt more than 10,000 of its Ohio customers, according to the groups. It would “weaken the essential program and disrupt the ability of seniors, veterans and families with children to stay connected with employers, schools and health care providers,” they said.
During an ongoing comment period, ProgressOhio has collected more than 1,000 comments that oppose AT&T’s request.
“Lifeline service helps to make basic telephone service affordable for low-income Ohioans who typically cannot afford the more expensive service offerings of local telephone companies,” said Susan Jagers, director of the Ohio Poverty Law Center. “These families can afford little more than food and rent. But, like everyone, they need access to communication services to ensure the can reach emergency services, medical providers, caregivers and family members.”
AT&T Ohio president Adam Grzybicki said it’s “important to set the record straight because none of this affects the services we provide to our customers, and we are continuing to provide traditional voice service in Ohio.”
“Today, only about 2 percent of Ohio households that are eligible for Lifeline discounts use it for our traditional landline service,” he said. “If the petition is approved, they can choose to keep our landline voice service, or, if they wish to apply their Lifeline discount, they can choose among four or more eligible wireless providers in their area. The consumer gets to choose what works best for them.”
AT&T already withdrew from the Lifeline low-income discount program in 12 other states in 2017. In Ohio, there are nearly 1.6 million households that qualify for the program, according to the groups opposing the request.
“Lifeline’s basic service is essential to older Ohioans’ ability to communicate with friends and family, caregivers, and in emergencies,” said Norm Wernet, president of the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans. “The ability of aging Ohioans to live outside an institutional setting is an essential cost savings to the taxpayers of Ohio. Diminishing older and disabled Ohioans’ ability to live independently will cost us all much more than is gained by this very profitable corporation in the end.”
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