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After fines, Q Link pledges to continue chasing federal subsidiesAfter fines, Q Link pledges to continue chasing federal subsidies

The FCC proposed a $62 million penalty against Q Link Wireless in January and a $20 million fine against the company six months later. Now, Q Link is reiterating its commitment to receiving government subsidies.

Mike Dano

November 3, 2023

3 Min Read
Money printing
(Source: Cigdem Simsek/Alamy Stock Photo)

Q Link Wireless has been busy this year.

At the beginning of 2023, the FCC proposed a $62 million penalty against Q Link for its apparent violation of the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program by seeking device reimbursements beyond the gadgets' market value.

Then, six months later, the FCC proposed a fine of $20 million against Q Link for apparent violations of rules designed to protect telecom customers' data privacy.

But that doesn't appear to have slowed Q Link's pursuit of government subsidies. In a release this week, the company said it is "proud to announce its commitment to promoting Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) adoption across the US." To do so, the company said it is undertaking a "comprehensive overhaul" of its help center, blog and social media content.

"This widespread update to content and messaging aims to help customers better understand the eligibility requirements for these vital government programs and the benefits they offer," according to Q Link.

That's not a surprise considering such programs represent a major business for Q Link. According to the company's release, Q Link counts 4 million Lifeline and ACP mobile customers. 

Attempts by Light Reading to reach Q Link officials including the company's CEO Issa Asad were unsuccessful. An FCC representative declined to comment about the status of the agency's proposed fines and penalties.

Federal aid

Lifeline traces its origins to the 1980s, when the Reagan administration created the program to provide poor Americans with phone service.

More recently, the Trump administration proposed the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program to help Americans pay for critical Internet services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACP stems from that effort, and the Biden administration recently requested more funding for ACP to keep it available beyond next year.

The Lifeline, EBB and ACP programs funnel government subsidies to telecom service providers so they can keep people connected. The ACP currently provides up to $30 per month in funding for each program participant. Over 21 million households currently receive money through the ACP.

But, like Lifeline, the ACP has been criticized as a hotbed for misuse. For Q Link specifically, the FCC alleged the company sought ACP reimbursements for an Android tablet that exceeded the value of the gadget itself.

As for Q Link's other fine related to customers' data, the FCC based its investigation on an Ars Technica article in 2021 that found Q Link customer data available to anyone who knew a valid phone number on the provider's network.

On its website, Q Link continues to offer "FREE Government Cell Phone Service" on "one of America's Largest 4G LTE/5G networks."

Q Link has plenty of company as a participant in the government's ACP program, including companies like Verizon and Comcast. And Q Link isn't the only company to improperly release customer data. For example, T-Mobile has suffered several hacks of its customers' data.

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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