The House has approved a bill aimed at curbing the abuse of a federal phone program.

Legislation to add accountability to a federal program administered by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission was approved unanimously today by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 2165, by state Rep. Jon Echols, would authorize the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to require more documentation from phone service providers receiving money through the Lifeline program and penalize providers who fail to provide documentation. The federal Lifeline program pays for phone service for low-income individuals.

The bill specifically requires phone service providers to document and verify their customers’ initial eligibility and continued eligibility and ensure that customers do not receive multiple phone lines. The legislation authorizes the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to set and enforce fines and decline to reimburse companies who are noncompliant.

“Accountability is needed for the federal Lifeline program. My legislation gives the Oklahoma Corporation Commission some additional enforcement capability and requires more information and verification from the phone service providers,” said Echols, R-Oklahoma City. “I believe this will reduce abuse of the program.”

Phone service companies TerraCom LLC and YourTel America Inc. recently agreed to payments to resolve investigations by the Federal Communications Commission into their participation in the Lifeline program. The FCC’s investigation found the companies failed to adequately track individuals who signed up for the Lifeline program and that customers were receiving duplicate landline or wireless services through the program.

“The Lifeline program was originally created to provide free landline phone service to the poor and elderly, but the program is currently giving tax dollars away to pay for duplicate landlines and cell phones,” said Echols.

The legislation now advances to the state Senate.