The state is trying to get the word out to low-income Marylanders that they could be eligible for reduced-cost telephone service.

Telephone service is discounted to as little as 66 cents a month for up to 30 outgoing local calls, or $10 a month for unlimited local calls, through the federal Lifeline program. It's funded through fees that users pay as part of their telephone bills. A separate program, Link Up, reduces the installation cost for new landline service.

Lifeline has existed since the 1990s, but the federal government estimates that no more than half of eligible Marylanders were signed up for it last year. Those receiving public assistance benefits such as food stamps and energy assistance qualify for the Lifeline program, the state says.

"It enables access to … an essential service," said Paula M. Carmody, the Maryland People's Counsel, whose office represents utility customers. "We certainly would like to see greater participation."

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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