Press Releases

Community Leaders Call on PUCO to Reject AT&T's Request to Drop Out of Lifeline Program

Despite raking in $20 billion from the corporate tax cut bill, AT&T is trying to abandon over 10,000 of Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Columbus -- Today, leaders from the NAACP, Ohio Poverty Law Center, Alliance for Retired Americans, ProgressOhio and Communications Workers of America District 4 called on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to reject AT&T’s request to drop out of the Lifeline program. AT&T’s abandonment of the Lifeline program, which subsidizes vital phone and internet services, would harm over 10,000 of their Ohio customers - including the elderly, veterans and low-income households.

AT&T’s abandonment of Lifeline in Ohio would weaken the essential program and disrupt the ability of seniors, veterans and families with children to stay connected with employers, schools and healthcare providers. Ohioans are already making their voice heard, and ProgressOhio has collected over 1,000 comments opposing AT&T Ohio’s abandonment of Lifeline in a comment period that will remain open until August 31.

Comments like this from one Diane in Cleveland tell how Ohioans will be affected:

“I am a disabled person. For decades I have paid ATT to provide necessary phone service in rural areas and to low-income people because there was a NEED. While I have not needed those particular services, I am appalled that this corporate giant believes it can abandon citizens while it rakes in billions of dollars over taxpayer and federally controlled and allocated airwaves.”

“Lifeline service helps to make basic telephone service affordable for low-income Ohioans who typically cannot afford the more expensive service offerings of local telephone companies,” said Susan Jagers, Director of the Ohio Poverty Law Center. “These families can afford little more than food and rent. But, like everyone, they need access to communication services to ensure the can reach emergency services, medical providers, caregivers and family members.”

Speakers also acknowledged the critical role that access to reliable communication plays in Ohioans’ health and well-being, including the importance of the ability to access telemedicine or to simply schedule appointments and follow up with doctors.

“Across the country, half of black and Latino families qualify for Lifeline. Here in Ohio, access to the internet and the telephone is a true lifeline in our communities. Countless households rely on the program so that they can reach their doctor, apply for job or even talk to their kids,” said Tom Roberts, President of the Ohio Conference of the NAACP.“It’s outrageous that after receiving billions of dollars of windfall in the tax bill, AT&T is trying to withdraw its support for basic services for our most vulnerable citizens.” "Lifeline's basic service is essential to older Ohioans’ ability to communicate with friends and family, caregivers, and in emergencies,” said Norm Wernet, President of the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans. "The ability of aging Ohioans to live outside an institutional setting is an essential cost savings to the taxpayers of Ohio. Diminishing older and disabled Ohioans’ ability to live independently will cost us all much more than is gained by this very profitable corporation in the end."

“Not only does Lifeline impact seniors and families that receive safety net benefits, it also protects those needing to stay connected for health care reasons,” said Bianca Edwards, a community organizer with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative. “For those who cannot afford phone or internet services, this is the lifeline that keeps them connected not only to their communities and loved one but also to safety.”

AT&T withdrew from the Lifeline low-income discount program in 12 other states in 2017. In Ohio, there are a total of 1,597,000 households that qualify for the program, including 157,000 veterans and 452,000 households with children that are eligible.

The company’s efforts to withdraw from the program in Ohio coincide with it coming under increased fire for its broken promises on jobs in Ohio and across the Midwest. This week, AT&T workers called attention to the impact of AT&T’s job cuts and offshoring across the Midwest.

Before the Republican tax plan passed, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson pledged that if enacted, the company would spend at least $1 billion in capital expenditures and be able to create “7,000 good jobs for the middle class.” Instead, despite $20 billion in tax savings, a new CWA analysis based on AT&T’s Q2 earnings report estimates that the company has eliminated 7,000 jobs since January 2018 when the tax cuts took effect.

A recent report from CWA found that AT&T has closed 44 call centers and eliminated 16,000 call center jobs in the last seven years. The Midwest has been particularly hard hit by these closures and layoffs.\

“AT&T is exploiting Americans by lying to Americans about increasing jobs and wages in order to sell politicians on billions of dollars in free money,” said ProgressOhio Managing Director Tyler Dillon. “To continue to abandon thousands of Ohioans after raking in billions from a corporate tax giveaway while laying off workers and refusing to significantly raise wages is disgusting. PUCO should reject AT&T’s latest attempt to throw Ohioans under the bus and allow our veterans, the elderly, minorities, and other vulnerable citizens to access the services they need.”

“AT&T continues to put corporate profits over the needs of working families at every turn,” said Ron Gay, Jr., Staff Representative from the Communications Workers of America District 4. “From their broken jobs promises following the tax windfall, to the call center closures and job cuts that have hit hard here in the Midwest, now this threat of withdrawal from Lifeline is just the latest attack. We aren’t simply going to accept their behavior. We are organizing and will work to hold them accountable at every turn.”

Community leaders encouraged everyone to weigh in on the importance of maintaining Lifeline as a robust program. PUCO is taking public comments through August 31 Ohioans can submit comments via ProgressOhio at act.progressohio.org/letter/demand-t-protect-elderly-and-low-income/ or on PUCO’s website at puco.ohio.gov/Contact-Us/.


Contact: Tyler Dillon, (937) 267-6493, tyler@progressohio.org