Sprint on Monday announced an agreement to merge its Lifeline wireless service brand called Assurance Wireless into Access Wireless, which also sells wireless coverage under the federal Lifeline assistance program on Sprint’s network.
The merged company will operate under Access Wireless’ brand called i-wireless, though Sprint will own 70 percent of the business. Paul McAleese, who founded and leads i-wireless, will run the combined business if the merger receives regulatory approval.
Both companies work under the Lifeline Assistance Program supported by the Universal Service Fund to extend wireless service to low-income people. Customers qualify for the low-cost service through federal and state rules.
“This alliance will create a vibrant competitor ready to embrace a modernized Lifeline program,” McAleese said in the announcement. “As the category transitions to broadband, we’re enthusiastic about the potential to help customers more fully participate in today’s digital economy by making access to employment, education and healthcare services more affordable to low-income consumers.”
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In its announcement, Sprint said i-wireless has “a unique competitive advantage in its ability to accurately and efficiently qualify new customers” for the Lifeline service. It said the advantage comes through Access Wireless’ investor, the Kroger Co. grocery chain.
Sprint lost millions of Lifeline subscribers in 2013 when a federally required check found many no longer met the criteria for the low-cost service.