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Monday, April 8, 2013 - 5:00am

Regulators Debate Charging Poor For Phones

A Republican utility regulator in Georgia wants to charge low-income customers for their government-subsidized telephone service.

H. Doug Everett has proposed requiring customers enrolled in the federal Lifeline program to pay telephone companies a fee of $5 per month. Companies that don't charge the fee would have to offer at least 500 minutes of calling time, potentially making it unprofitable to stay in the market.

The rules are designed to affect firms offering cellphones, not landlines.

Everett says the Lifeline program has been abused. The U.S. government is moving to tighten eligibility requirements in the $2 billion program after earlier estimating that 15 percent of people enrolled were ineligible.

Critics of Everett's plan say it would discourage poor people from enrolling and drive phone companies out of the market.