Anyone who pays a cellphone bill knows it's a costly monthly expense.
People at or below the poverty line have a hard time affording service, but it's such a necessary part of everyday life that the Universal Service Fund fee — one of those pesky fees tacked onto all our bills — was designed to help subsidize phones for low-income Americans.
Known as the Lifeline program, it allows for subsidized phone service to people at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or to those who qualify for various forms of federal assistance programs.
Small carriers sign up these customers and get the collected fees to help pay for the service.
But recent reports have found problems with the system.
A recent CBS News report said investigators have found some carriers are signing people up multiple times, signing up people who don't qualify or people who don't exist.
One carrier in Oklahoma is accused of 32,000 cases of fraud.
The FCC said it has eliminated 2.2 million duplicate accounts, saving $260 million and fined 13 carriers $90 million, and the General Accountability Office said it is investigating the program.
The Federal Communications Commission website says that one of the purposes of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that set up the Lifeline program is to “promote the availability of quality services at just, reasonable and affordable rates for all consumers.”
Allowing the Universal Service fees those consumers pay to be wasted does nothing to promote just, reasonable and affordable rates.
It's a noble goal to make sure all people have phones to communicate, but the government must make sure that our money isn't being wasted and stolen.