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Judge Bars PSC from Imposing Phone Charge on Indigent

, Daily Report

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A federal judge in Newnan has barred the Georgia Public Service Commission from forcing wireless cellphone companies to charge a $5 monthly fee to their indigent customers.

U.S. District Judge Richard Story on Tuesday issued a preliminary injunction barring the agency from imposing the fee on indigent cellphone customers participating in the federal Lifeline program.

State wireless cellphone firms and their international trade association had sought the injunction, claiming the fee violated federal law. They have sued to overturn the rule imposing the fee, which the PSC approved in a 3-2 vote in October.

Said PSC spokesman Bill Edge: "We are consulting with our attorneys as to the next step forward."

Lifeline pays for limited wireless phone service for the indigent, drawing funds from a $2 fee paid monthly by wireless and telephone customers across the nation. Under the Barack Obama administration, the 28-year-old program has become a lightning rod for criticism, and many Republicans aligned with the Tea Party have dubbed it "the Obamaphone" program, claiming it was rife with fraud.

The wireless industry had sought the injunction, claiming the fee would cost them customers and revenue, and force them to incur substantial administrative costs.

Story said in his order that he put a temporary halt to the fee because the cellphone companies have shown they likely would suffer substantial financial harm while it is litigated and likely would win the case.

"The public interest tilts in favor of providing telephone services to low-income households that otherwise would be unable to afford mobile phones," Story said.

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