IM this article to a friend!

January 17, 2003

Low-Income Phone-Discount Programs Underused in Minnesota

From: PRNewswire (press release) - 17 Jan 2003

Recent Findings Show As Many As 98 Percent Of Eligible Consumers Fail To Take
Advantage of One Available Program

ST. PAUL, Minn., Jan. 17 /PRNewswire/ -- Programs and funds are in place
that could be used to lower the monthly cost of basic phone service and new
phone installations for thousands of low-income Minnesotans. But many
consumers and social service agencies don't know enough about the programs to
take advantage of them.
The three existing federal and state phone-discount programs -- Link-Up,
Lifeline and Telephone Assistance Plan (TAP) -- are funded through monthly
fees collected from telephone customers throughout Minnesota and the rest of
the country. But these programs are greatly underutilized. Recent findings
show just 2 percent of eligible Minnesotans use Link-Up, 20 percent use
Lifeline and 15 percent use TAP. (More information on this story is available
These low participation figures have prompted the Minnesota Department of
Commerce to launch a statewide radio, television and print campaign to raise
awareness and participation in the three existing phone-discount programs. The
campaign is being funded with penalty money collected from Qwest for
inadequate customer service based on standards established by the Minnesota
Public Utilities Commission.
"Without reliable phone service, life becomes even more difficult for
people with low incomes or disabilities, including low-income seniors,"
explains Department of Commerce Telecommunications Manager Greg Doyle. "It
means they can't stay in contact with employers, reach their children's
schools, call for help in health emergencies or stay in touch with friends and
The discount programs are aimed at helping low-income customers get
connected and stay connected. Link-Up pays up to half of local telephone
service connection and installation charges. Lifeline provides a discount of
up to $7.75 on basic monthly phone service, which averages $10.69 in Minnesota
but varies by telephone exchange. The benefits increase for residents of
federally recognized reservations.
Both federal programs are funded by the Universal Service Fund, which
collected $9.36 million from Minnesota phone customers in 2000 (the last year
for which Federal Communications Commission data is available). But that year,
notes Doyle, Minnesotans received just $3.7 million in discounted phone
service through these programs. "That's less than 40 cents for every Minnesota
dollar paid into the fund."
The Minnesota discount program is similarly underutilized. TAP provides an
additional $1.75 per month to customers enrolled in Lifeline, for a total
discount of up to $9.50. For those not participating in Lifeline, TAP pays
$6.98 per month toward basic phone service. A fourth program -- Telephone
Equipment Distribution (TED) -- provides equipment for low-income Minnesotans
who have a hearing loss, speech and/or mobility impairment that limits their
use of standard telephones.
"Nearly every low-income Minnesota household is eligible for one or more
of these programs," says Doyle. "Reliable phone service can help provide
better lives for Minnesotans. It's our goal to increase participation in these
phone-discount programs to make that possible."
For more information on Link-Up, Lifeline, TAP or TED, visit or call 211 or 1-800-543-7709.

© 2002 Silicon Valley Business Ink. All rights reserved.