6 Investigates: FCC Fines 5 Companies Over Government-Issued Cell Phones

Tuesday, October 1st 2013, 7:20 pm
By: News On 6

Momentum continues to build after a series of Six Investigates reports on a government-subsidized cell phone program and the rampant fraud it created in Oklahoma.

The Federal Communications Commission announced it will fine five cell phone companies nearly $15 million.

Six Investigates completed our first investigation into the federal Lifeline program a year ago, illustrating how easy it was for cell phone companies to defraud the government subsidized program, and just how many millions they were making off it in Oklahoma.

The first company we exposed is one of the companies the FCC is fining.

It only took one try and I got a free cell phone complete with a year's worth of government-subsidized service. The problem? I didn't provide any documentation that I qualified for one, because I don't.

It took just one visit to the homeless alliance to prove cell phone companies were giving out multiple phones to whoever wanted them. One man had two duffel bags full.

Now, at least some of the companies providing the phones and the government-subsidized service that goes with them will have to pay back some of the millions they made off the Lifeline program.

According to a Federal Communications Commission news release five companies will have to forfeit 14.4 million dollars to the FCC after investigations revealed multiple duplicate accounts.

Three of the companies were the subjects of 6 Investigates stories.

10/25/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma Is Ground Zero For Government Cell Phone Fraud

Icon Telecom is hit with $8.5 million in forfeitures. Assist $2.2 million. And finally, Easy Telephone Services - or Easy Wireless - will have to pay $1.5 million.

State regulators at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission have been working on their own Lifeline investigations and say they're glad the feds have been doing the same.

"We were happy to see the orders this morning. It showed us that action was being taken on the federal level. This is an agency that we've been trying to coordinate with our efforts over the last year," said Brandy Wreath, Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

And, while he's optimistic about the feds actions, he says there are still a lot of questions that will need answers going forward.

I tried to contact the FCC to get answers to some of those questions, but because of the government shutdown the office is closed, so those answers will have to come another day.

Assist Wireless issued the following statement:

Assist is still reviewing the FCC's order and the facts upon which apparently it is based. Assist works hard to prevent and correct consumer attempts to enroll multiple times in Lifeline. While no screening mechanism is perfect, the FCC's National Lifeline Accountable Database should help to address the problem of duplicate enrollments in Lifeline.

Compliance with Lifeline program rules is Assist's highest priority and we will work diligently with the FCC to resolve the issues raised in the order.