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Bill to update LifeLine phone service in California falters

August 31, 2013|By Marc Lifsher
  • An AT&T-backed bill to overhaul subsidized LifeLine phone service was side-tracked in the California Legislature.
An AT&T-backed bill to overhaul subsidized LifeLine phone service… (Paul Sancya / Associated…)

SACRAMENTO -- A bill backed by AT&T Inc. and some other telecommunications companies aimed at overhauling the LifeLine telephone subsidy for low-income Californians appears to be sidetracked for this year.

The measure, AB 1407 introduced by Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would turn LifeLine into a voucher system, providing discounts on wireless phones and services and getting rid of most oversight of the program by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Friday declined to send the measure to the full Senate for a floor vote during the last two weeks of the legislative session.

Instead the bill was held. At the same time, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) sent a letter to PUC Commissioner Catherine Sandoval in which they urged Sandoval and her four colleagues to hurry to authorize a wireless product so that any of the 1.2 million LifeLine customers who might want to switch to cellular phones from landlines can do so.

"We need the CPUC to finalize its proceeding as quickly as possible and catch up with today's voice technology," Steinberg and De Leon wrote. "The Legislature will not wait indefinitely for expansion of the LifeLine program to mobile phones."

Sandoval previously had promised that the commission would have a draft of its new wireless policy completed by October and a new program ready to roll out by early next year.

The commission formally opposed the Bradford bill, contending that it would eliminate the PUC's ability to protect consumers by setting rates and ensuring minimal levels of services.


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