Telephone Assistance Programs for Low-Income Households

A Preliminary Assessment

by Leland Johnson


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In response to rising local telephone rates in recent years, many states have introduced telephone assistance programs to enable households to retain service and to extend service to those without it. Typically, these programs offer a substantial discount for service to households with incomes below a given level or eligible for benefits under specified welfare programs. This report offers guidance in the design and evaluation of assistance programs by assessing evidence from ongoing programs. The study examines the experiences in eight states and the District of Columbia &mdash jurisdictions whose programs have histories long enough to draw upon. Two important conclusions emerge: (1) To most effectively promote universal service, a program would have characteristics different from one designed to ease financial hardship. (2) Although programs are justified in terms of promoting universal service, their design frequently includes characteristics that are more consistent with easing financial hardship. The author suggests that there must be mandatory reporting requirements to enable the early evaluation of these programs.

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