California LifeLine Program:
Modifications to Include Wireless and
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)  



The California LifeLine Program is a $480 million a year public purpose program that provides discounted telephone service for eligible low-income households, and is funded through surcharges on intrastate voice services. Customers can combine state and federal subsidies to further discount wireline and wireless telephone service.     

In 2011, the CPUC opened a Rulemaking to make forward-looking modifications to the LifeLine program. 


Phase 1

In January 2014, the CPUC issued a Decision that allows the LifeLine program to include wireless service and wireline interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service. In February 2015, the CPUC issued a Ruling to consider further revisions to the LifeLine program to develop participation rules for VoIP service providers that do not have a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN). VOIP service providers without a CPCN are currently not regulated by the CPUC. The CPUC will consider the following issues: 

  • Service Elements 
  • Program Implementation 
  • Program Administration 
  • Legal and Jurisdiction 
  • Safety  
  • Non-Discrimination 
  • Consumer Protection 
  • Privacy 
  • Program Compliance 
  • Complaint procedure 
  • Enforcement Actions 
  • Program Evaluation 


Phase 2

In March 2015 the CPUC issued a Ruling seeking comments on its Staff Report proposing rules to accommodate Fixed-VoIP service providers that do not have a CPCN into the LifeLine program, including requiring service providers to adhere to the CPUC’s:

  • Minimum service quality standards
  • Customer privacy rules


Public Advocates Office (the Office) Position

The Office supports the LifeLine program to ensure universal access to available wireline and wireless voice services. 

The Office finds it would be beneficial to include Fixed-VoIP service under the LifeLine program because it would enhance customer choice. The Office supports most of the rules proposed in the March 2015 Staff Report because they provide reasonable customer protections to accompany the participation of Fixed-VoIP service providers in the LifeLine program, such as requiring adherence to the CPUC’s minimum service quality standards and customer privacy rules.

The Staff Report, however, lacks a framework that would clearly allow the CPUC to enforce its rules. Therefore, the Office recommends that the CPUC require Fixed-VoIP service providers to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), as this will more adequately address the CPUC’s enforcement authority.

See the Office’s April 2, 2015 Opening Comments to the March 2015 Staff Report.  


CPUC Proceeding Docket

See the Proceeding docket.   



Other Resources

California LifeLine Program Discount Comparison    

CPUC Consumer Programs and Information