More than 35,000 low-income Tennesseans are “On Hold” today with baited breath and fingers crossed in hopes that state government will empathize with their plight and permit their wireless phone service to continue uninterrupted. The countdown is on and the minutes are ticking by.

As early as today, the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA) is scheduled to hear a case involving legal issues which threaten to derail the wireless services to thousands of income-eligible Middle Tennesseans.

This significant federal program underwrites basic telephone access for needy citizens. The program in question allows Nexus Communications under the name Reachout Wireless, to provide 68 monthly minutes of wireless service for use by the needy. The cellular device is provided gratis.

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly and the Bredesen administration are aware of the issue and are currently examining legislation which could offer relief. Needless to say, the phones at legislators’ offices have been ringing constantly as worried constituents have telephoned to express their extreme fear that desire to continue this vital program.

Concerned citizens have both called and written legislators and others to relate just how important this program is in allowing them to stay in touch with their physicians, communicate with their school-aged children and other family members and receive calls about potential employment, while they struggle to make it financially in a very tough economic climate.

The Nexus services, known as Lifeline and Link-Up, have been funded through the federal Universal Service Fund since last year. Recently, a state procedural issue halted the federal agency funding. Meanwhile, Nexus has continued to operate the program until the matter could be reviewed and appropriately resolved (awfully important during the state’s flood crisis).

Interestingly, the funds generated by Tennessee telephone customers provide far more revenue for federal coffers than are presently returned to the Volunteer State.  It is estimated that more than $46 million surplus dollars are being used to subsidize folks in such states across the nation as California, New York and Mississippi. The loss of this worthy program would simply increase the dollar amount which Tennesseans would be sending to other states.

It seems that all parts of government, the TRA and the legislature, are diligently and prudently seeking solutions. As a judicial body, the TRA must carefully weigh the legal questions as they exercise their statutory responsibilities, while the General Assembly must address this matter, along with the many other issues of the state’s business, before they can consider adjourning their current session.

In the interim, there are 35,000 anxious Tennesseans awaiting a positive outcome, as they pull for “their” government to make it work by keeping them connected.  It should be an interesting next few days as the phones continue to ring.

Bo Roberts is a Nashville marketing consultant and managing partner of Roberts Strategies.