You are paying for other people's cell phones

FCC now looking deeper into the issue

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Federal watchdogs are looking into how many people may be taking advantage of a phone program to help the poor.

Take a look at your cell phone bill and search for what is called the 'Universal Service Charge'.

Americans pay an average of $2.50 per month per household to fund a number of subsidized communications programs, such as 'Lifeline'. The programs are supposed to put cell phones in the hands of low-income people so those people are not cut off from jobs, families and emergency services.

"I wasn't even aware that I was paying that charge to everyone each month," said Lisa Van Dyne of Palm Beach County.

That surprising situation is topped only by another cell phone bill surprise. Many of those so-called 'low income' subscribers may not be able to prove to the Federal Communications Commission that they are, in fact, 'low income'.

The FCC recently reviewed its top five carriers offering 'Lifeline' support. The findings from those reports were recently published by the Wall Street Journal. The publication uncovered that 41 percent - or nearly 2.5 million subscribers - could not actually prove they were eligible for the program.

Many of the $2.2 billion dollars paid into this program may not even be going to people who needed it, according to the Wall Street Journal. "If I have to pay 130 dollars a month, everybody else should have to pay their bills as well," said Van Dyne.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the rules are changing to help combat misuse of your money. The FCC will now fine a carrier up to $150,000 each time the carrier does not confirm the eligibility of its so-called 'low income' subscribers.

The process must now be conducted each year.

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