McCaskill steps in to thwart free cell phone program waste

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by Chris Nagus

KMOV.com

Posted on December 14, 2011 at 11:26 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 12:16 PM

Senator Claire McCaskill is asking the FCC to improve the Lifeline program that provides free cell phones for low income Americans.

McCaskill sent this letter to the FCC following concerns over potential fraud and abuse within the program. McCaskill, who makes a senate salary of $174,000 a year, is not poor. However, she recently received a solicitation at her Washington condo for a free government funded cell phone.

Life Wireless provides free cell phones to low-income Missourians. A company spokesperson released this statement following several News 4 investigations into how the phones are distributed.

"Only 48 percent of eligible Missouri Lifeline customers are using the program.  This proves wrong the notion that the market is over saturated and a great many customers are using more than one service in violation of the rules. Life Wireless is working with the FCC and other competing service providers to create a database and eliminate duplicate accounts for the same qualified customer."

The FCC tells News 4 they are currently working multiple ongoing investigations that could lead to civil or criminal penalities involving telecom providers who participate in the lifeline program. The FCC says the program provides essential phone service to low income Americans, but fraud and abuse will not be tolerated. The FCC will hold a meeting in January to discuss the potential creation of a central database that would track who signs up for the free phones, and whether duplicate orders are processed.

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