Assurance Wireless Granted ETC Status in Non-Tribal Areas of South Dakota

Assurance Wireless USA, a subsidiary of T-Mobile USA, has been granted Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) status by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for the Lifeline program in non-tribal areas of the state. This decision will allow Assurance to provide federally subsidized wireless phone and internet services to low-income customers in South Dakota.

Assurance Wireless Granted ETC Status in Non-Tribal Areas of South Dakota

The Lifeline Program

The Lifeline program is a federal initiative that provides a monthly discount of up to $9.25 to eligible low-income consumers for telecommunication services. Eligibility is based on income levels (up to 135% of the federal poverty line) or enrollment in various federal assistance programs, such as Medicaid or SNAP.

Benefits for Low-Income Households

The Lifeline program aims to ensure that affordable communication services are available to low-income households, enabling them to stay connected and access essential resources. With Assurance Wireless now an ETC in non-tribal areas of South Dakota, more residents will have access to discounted wireless services, promoting digital inclusion and bridging the connectivity gap.

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The Application Process

Assurance Wireless’s Application

The PUC opened a docket on Assurance Wireless’s application for ETC status on January 12, 2024. The South Dakota Telecommunications Association (SDTA), representing fiber-based telephone and internet service providers in the state, intervened in the process.

Data Requests and Stipulation

Over the course of several months, the PUC staff worked with Assurance Wireless to address data requests, while SDTA filed comments expressing concerns. On April 29, 2024, Assurance, SDTA, and the PUC staff jointly filed a stipulation waiving the right to an evidentiary hearing and allowing the commission to proceed with a decision.

Concerns and Discussions

During the PUC’s deliberations, several concerns were raised:

  1. Customer Support: The commission expressed concern over Assurance Wireless’s plan to respond to customers solely via email and not offer telephone support.
  2. Competition with Existing Services: SDTA raised questions about the potential impact on existing fiber broadband subscribers, with Commissioner Chris Nelson questioning whether customers would switch from fiber services to Assurance’s wireless offering for the $9.25 discount.
  3. Data Limitations: SDTA highlighted potential consumer confusion regarding data limitations on wireless plans compared to fiber broadband services.
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Despite these concerns, the PUC ultimately granted Assurance Wireless ETC status in non-tribal areas of South Dakota, acknowledging the potential benefits of increased access to affordable communication services for low-income households.

Conclusion

The PUC’s decision to designate Assurance Wireless as an ETC in non-tribal areas of South Dakota is a significant step toward expanding the reach of the Lifeline program and promoting digital inclusion for low-income residents. As Assurance Wireless begins offering its services, it will be essential to address concerns raised by stakeholders and ensure that consumers have access to clear information about data limitations and support options.

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