T-Mobile promises to support low-income Lifeline program ‘indefinitely’ if merger approved

While the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission weigh the pros and cons of the proposed $ 26 billion T-Mobile merger with Sprint, T-Mobile continues to update its pledges to increase its chances of government approval.

In the latest update, T-Mobile has committed to continuing to support Sprint’s low-income Assurance Wireless brand “indefinitely,” as USA TODAY has learned.

The guarantee, along with other prepaid brands of Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Wireless, and T-Mobile’s Metro are popular with low-income Americans and cost-conscious because of their cheaper alternatives to traditional plans than the four major wireless networks .

As part of Virgin Mobile, Assurance participates in the Lifeline Assistance program, a government service that allows people participating in public assistance programs such as Medicaid, Food Stamps or Supplemental Security Income to receive a discount of $ 9.25 per month in the telephone service or, potentially, a free service. Telephone and service to “qualifying low-income households”.

Assurance offers Lifeline in 41 states, as well as in Washington, DC, while T-Mobile offers support for the program in nine states plus Puerto Rico.

The service is limited to one account per household and proof of income or participation in one of the other government programs may be required to verify that you are eligible.

“The digital divide is real and we want to help eliminate it,” T-Mobile president Mike Sievert said in a statement to USA TODAY. “We have promised that the New T-Mobile will maintain the existing T-Mobile and Sprint Lifeline program across the country indefinitely, unless fundamental changes are made to today’s program.”

T-Mobile and Sprint have been under pressure from Democrats for concerns that their merger will lead to higher prices.

Late last month, first-year congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (a Democrat from Michigan) sent a letter signed by 36 other Democrats to the DOJ and FCC against the agreement, arguing in part that the agreement “would disproportionately hurt low-income people.” income and communities of color. ” which are in brands such as Boost or Metro.

T-Mobile has previously promised not to raise rates for three years on its plans or Sprint plans. The company has also argued that by combining with Sprint, the new entity will be able to offer better service in rural areas, as well as access to a more robust 5G network.

“This is a merger that has the potential to provide improved broadband services to price-sensitive consumers, primarily because of its expectation of a higher-quality, enhanced high-speed broadband network,” said Dr. Nicol Turner, member of The Brookings Institution. The Center for Technological Innovation and supporter of the Lifeline program, tells USA TODAY.

“There will be a lot of people who depend on these two companies to survive.”

Turner Lee hopes that T-Mobile and Sprint “realize they are sitting in an asset where they can have two options: improve their services or exploit them, and I think that in the era of competitive broadband services, doing the latter is I’m not going to help you. ”

Representative Tony C├írdenas, a Democrat from California, who initially headed a letter signed by 50 members of Congress asking companies about their commitment to Lifeline in February, was satisfied with T-Mobile’s commitment.

“I appreciate that T-Mobile answers our questions and I look forward to hearing more specific details about how the proposed new T-Mobile plans to commit the resources necessary for Lifeline’s participation to increase year after year,” C├írdenas said in a statement.

“If the merger takes place, I hope to receive updates on New T-Mobile’s actions to ensure mobile services for vulnerable populations for future generations.”

T-Mobile and Sprint executives, including Legere and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, are expected to appear in Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee to continue pushing for the merger.