The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum today announced a $1.6 million dollar False Claims Act settlement with a Sprint (now T-Mobile) subsidiary called Assurance Wireless, for overcharging the Oregon Lifeline program. This program, managed by the PUC, provides discounted voice and broadband service to qualifying low-income Oregonians paid for with federal and state subsidies.
In 2019, PUC staff launched an investigation of Sprint’s billing practices and discovered it had been systematically overcharging the Oregon Lifeline program for ineligible usage. PUC’s discovery eventually led to a nationwide investigation where the FCC recovered approximately $368 million for the federal Lifeline subsidy and issued a $200 million penalty. After securing an Oregon refund of $788,061 in December 2020, the PUC assisted Oregon DOJ’s civil enforcement team in securing an additional settlement payment of $859,451 under the Oregon False Claims Act, for a grand total of $1,647,512 returned back to the state.
“Sprint significantly overcharged Oregon’s program—as it did elsewhere across the country,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “Luckily, we caught on and made them pay. Especially when it comes to services for people with low incomes, big companies like Sprint have a duty to act responsibly. I want to thank everyone at Oregon’s Department of Justice and the PUC who worked on this settlement. Together we are sending a strong signal: We will not tolerate waste and abuse of critical state subsidies.”
“Oregon Lifeline provides an invaluable service to low-income Oregonians by helping them stay connected and have access to local emergency services, jobs, healthcare, education, and other vital resources,” said PUC Chair Megan Decker. “The efforts of our team helped ensure the integrity of the Lifeline program not only for customers in Oregon, but across the country as well. Without these efforts, this issue may have gone undetected indefinitely.”
For additional information about the Oregon Lifeline program, visit https://www.lifeline.oregon.gov.