Fee could be tacked on to free cellphone program

by: Liz Artz Updated:

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ATLANTA —

A federally funded program that provides free cellphones to 774,000 Georgians might get some state modifications.

Wednesday, protesters stood on the steps of the state Capitol showing their concern about a fee that could be implemented for Lifeline phone users.

This will be discussed at Thursday’s public service commission meeting and could go on the agenda for a vote next Tuesday.

Channel 2’s Liz Artz spoke with Edward Courtney, who has used a Lifeline phone for two years. He got laid off from a construction job and could no longer pay rent and had to move into a homeless shelter. He said the free phone is the only way he survives in a world that runs on technology.

Courtney now works as a day laborer and he says he's able to get work. He told Artz potential employers can get a hold of him day or night.

The federally funded program gives people living at poverty level 250 free minutes a month. The Georgia Public Service Commission wants to tack on a $5 fee the user would have to pay. It’s money that would go directly to the telecommunication company providing the phone. Those companies already receive $9 from the government to pay for the phones. Courtney told Artz when it comes to paying for MARTA to get a to a job or buying food, $5 a month is a lot of money.

Courtney was one of about 30 protesters who stood in front of the capitol.

A spokesman for the PSC  said the fee is an effort to cut down on fraud. Bill Edge said they’ve had issues with single household getting multiple phones.

Robert Patillo, one of the organizers behind the protest, said the federal government has already implemented measures to cut nearly $200 million in government waste. He said this state fee would only hurt people who truly cannot afford a phone.

If this gets on the agenda Thursday, the commission will vote on it Tuesday; if passed, it would go into effect in January.