ATLANTA -- A federal program that gives free phones to poor Georgians is being abused and the government is cracking down. An 11Alive viewer was concerned about fraud and sent the Waste Watchers team an e-mail about it.
A doctor who works in a medical office in Atlanta said someone wanted to use his address to have a free federal cell phones delivered, in order to bypass the rules. He said the person even bragged about getting five free cell phones when people are only allowed to have one. The tipster wants to know what's being done about it.
"There are about a dozen providers that the Commission has approved to offer this service in Georgia" said Georgia Public Service Commission spokesman Bill Edge.
Wireless phone providers like Nexus, T-Mobile and Assurance/Virgin Mobile offer low-income people free phones, 250 free minutes and 250 free text messages.
You're paying for it on your phone bill. It's called the Universal Service Charge.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission paid $1.75 billion to telecommunication companies to provide landline and cell service to poor families. It's called the Lifeline Program. An estimated 1.8 million Georgians are eligible.
The subsidy is only supposed to cover one landline or cell phone per household, but the FCC has discovered widespread abuse and is now cracking down.
"They've instituted some new requirements aimed at reducing the fraud and abuse," Edge said.
The requirements include scouring subscriber rolls to eliminate duplicate subscribers and eliminating unnecessary connection fees that were lining telecommunication companies' pockets.
In a recent statement, the FCC says it's on track to save $200 million this year by cracking down on abuse and eliminating duplicate and unused accounts that make cell companies richer.
Georgia's Public Service Commission regulates the providers to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do.
"If a person doesn't use his service for 60 days, they have to drop those subscribers from the service," Edge said.
If you see fraud and abuse and know someone who's getting more than one free cell phone, tell us about. You can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You should also report it to the FCC. The number is 1-888-225-5322.