Newport woman struggles with low-income phone service provider

NEWPORT (WATE) – A woman in Newport is asking why she has no long distance service with her new phone company. Service to the disabled woman’s home was switched in early July, and ever since, she’s been trying to receive full coverage.

There is a group of companies that provide phone service to people with low incomes. For those who depend on the phones, there have been a lot of ownership chances recently, which can be frustrating for customers.

Christine Stewart’s communication’s lifeline to the outside world has been cut off. At 68, Stewart has been disabled since a teenager. She doesn’t drive and lives on limited income. To maintain her health, she see doctors as far away as Nashville.

Her phone service is now with a company called Tele Circuit. Five years ago, she was first connected with OneTone Telecom, but after a few years was then switched to Global Connection whose service ended in late June. Stewart says that’s when problems began.

“And from Global they’ve now changed to Tele Circuit and cut off my long distance abilities,” she said.

Stewart draws $735 a month to visits physicians regularly.

Christine Stewart

“I can’t get a hold of my doctors, can’t get a hold of my doctors at Vanderbilt. I can’t call long distance at all to anyone,” Stewart said.

Stewart says her last payment to Global was made in June. With no car, a friend would drive her to this business in Newport where she would wire her payments. However, the payment system changed when her service was switched a few weeks ago.

“They told me to go get a Moneygram and I did that. And they would restore 24 to 48 hours my long distance. It’s been longer than that now,” she said.

She had to pay $54, but still has no long distance service. Because of her low income, Stewart receives food stamps. Tele Circuit wanted information from her card faxed to them in order to keep her service.

Believing she made a mistake, the food stamp office gave her some frightening information. They said her card information had been compromised and suggested switching cards and getting a new one.

Tele Circuit’s grade with the Better Business Bureau is an F. There are numerous complaints on the consumer website Ripoff Report about customer service.

“I keep trying to get them. They put me on hold 45 minutes each time,” said Stewart.

In 2012, an order by the Federal Communications Commission alleged Tele Circuit switched customer service without their authorization, a practice called “slamming.” The company’s website states Tele Circuit takes pride in providing customers with low rates and outstanding service.

WATE 6 On Your Side contacted the company last week about Christine Stewart and explained her situation. Within two days of the inquiry, the company responded. Stewart’s long distance service has now been activated. They said they wanted her food stamp information to verify her eligibility for the phone service.

There are other phone providers who offer discount services for eligible low-income subscribers. For instance, the FCC’s Lifeline program has discounts on wither a landline or wireless service. Since Stewart prefers landline service, WATE 6 On Your Side is getting her in touch with that service where she could save money.

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