In Indianapolis alone, eight Obamaphone applications from a single corporate provider of the program, TerraCom, were linked to abandoned homes, according to a new report from Scripps Howard Investigative Service. They also discovered that six applications for the Lifeline program, the official name of the “Obamaphone” subsidized phone service, were submitted under the names of men in a Milwaukee homeless shelter who claim their signatures were forged.
TerraCom’s chief operating officer, Dale Schmick, told investigating Indiana officials months ago that his company adhered to a verification protocol to ensure applications listing addresses of abandoned buildings or homeless shelters weren’t approved. (According to the Lifeline rules, applicants who live in homeless shelters must fill out a worksheet verifying that they are economically separate from any other residents there.)
National Review Online has interviewed Reginald Strode, a former employee of TerraCom. His story goes far to explain the discovery of falsified addresses:
Strode says he asked questions [to applicants] to determine eligibility and then submitted the application online for approval. If an application for a subsidized phone was not approved using the personal information the prospective subscriber had provided, he says, “there was a way that [TerraCom managers] taught us to go around it, which was go pick a random address off a website . . . just to push it through.”
Strode provided National Review Online with a video he had recorded of a Lifeline employee training other workers to find an address at random to use for problematic applications. Addresses on Lifeline applications must be residential, but in the video, the trainer notes that for one applicant, “the address that he used was a business address, so I went and found an address on this site. . . . Hope he gets a phone.”
That’s not the only worrisome detail about TerraCom, and, more broadly, the Lifeline program. A recent FCC audit found that 41 percent of the Obamaphones recipients it surveyed — which would mean more than 6 million beneficiaries in the program overall – hadn’t proven their eligibility. Read the full story here.