Free cell phones available to low-income residents

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA— Low-income Columbia residents are now eligible to receive a free cell phone and 68 free monthly minutes to use in an emergency.

 Nearly 16,420 low-income households in Boone County qualify for the federally subsidized program, according to TracFone Wireless, the supplier of the phones.

To qualify for the service, called Lifeline, a recipient must have a valid U.S. postal address, be the head of a household and already a beneficiary of a federal program. Valid federal programs include receiving food stamps, the student lunch program and state disability assistance, among others.

Those who meet these requirements must complete an application, which is available online, said Jose Fuentes, director of government relations for TracFone.

TracFone initially approached the Federal Communications Commission with a business model to provide free cell phones to low-income citizens, Fuentes said. The program stemmed from feedback about emergency phone service from people who either used few minutes, were not able to pass credit checks or disliked contracts.

“Twenty years ago, owning a cell phone was a privilege. Now it’s a right,” Fuentes said.  “Access to modern communication should not only be available to people who can afford it, but for everyone.”

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Andrew Groff January 26, 2010 | 6:37 a.m.

It's not a right. Want a cell phone, get a job. Obamanomics in action.

(Report Comment)
Beth Campbell January 26, 2010 | 7:51 a.m.

This disgusts me. What's next, free vehicles? A cell phone is a LUXURY! We need to put a stop to the sense of entitlement in our community. This certainly does not get us closer to that end. What incentive do people have to increase their income if they have their home, food, and CELL PHONE paid for? Meanwhile, other hard-working people are being taxed into poverty trying to pay for these programs.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 26, 2010 | 8:07 a.m.

Beth, some states do force taxpayers to pay for insurance, repairs and AAA memberships. Massachusetts is one example:

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez January 26, 2010 | 8:25 a.m.

This program has been going on for quite some time. I think it started in the Bush. Saying Obamanomics is responsibly is quite an uneducated response. That is like blaming Obama for sinking The Bismark. The one advantage I can see with this program that gives a very cheap cell phone(worth about $10.00) and a mere (68 minutes worth about $20.00)is that potentially some parent's child might be able to call home or 911 in an emergency which is a good thing. Also a single parent down and out due to the economy might be able to call the school,bus service or the baby sitter in case of emergency. There are two sides to the story here. Posters continuing to lump all that are on any form of assistance as the dregs of society is quite a lame form of thought. It does show the poster's real intellectual level of knowledge of society,race,economic status or educational levels of those they are trying to lump together or does it?

(Report Comment)
david murphy January 26, 2010 | 8:38 a.m.

Sure, let the already overburdened taxpayer with yet another expense. I hardly see how someone needs a cell phone because they are poor when they could get a hard line for less expense. What's next? Free broadband? I am sure that is in the works as well.

(Report Comment)
Robert Simms January 26, 2010 | 8:58 a.m.

This program has been around since 1984. In 1996 it started subsidizing cell phones as well as landlines. This is not new.

(Report Comment)
Andrew Groff January 26, 2010 | 10:23 a.m.

Carlos, I am more than happy to except that my Obamanomics comment is uneducated. Frankly, I don't care when it started, it needs to stop. I have never heard of this program and assumed that it was part of the Obama agenda. My fault. At the bottom is what I googled.

My question to you, do you agree with Fuentes?

You talk of potential and a single parent being down & out, which I would have no problem helping out. The people that I know that lost their job do to layoff or their place of employment closing, are not looking for a handout, they looking to be employed again.

In this local area, the large majority of families that have known nothing but government handouts, welfare, stay on welfare.

As a fitting note, look up South Carolina's lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer. The "Haves" are tired on providing for the "Have Nots".

The reality of the situation is that we keep expanding welfare and are not providing any solution or incentive to break the cycle. The working people I mentioned above have their own incentive, pride and responsibility.

As far as a poster's real intellectual level...

The following is from FactCheck:

SafeLink is run by a subsidiary of América Móvil, the world’s fourth largest wireless company in terms of subscribers, but it is not paid for directly by the company. Nor is it paid for with "tax payer money," as the e-mail claims. Rather, it is funded through the Universal Service Fund, which is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, an independent, not-for-profit corporation set up by the Federal Communications Commission. The USF is sustained by contributions from telecommunications companies such as "long distance companies, local telephone companies, wireless telephone companies, paging companies, and payphone providers." The companies often charge customers to fund their contributions in the form of a universal service fee you might see on your monthly phone bill. The fund is then parceled out to companies, such as América Móvil, that create programs, such as SafeLink, to provide telecommunications service to rural areas and low-income households.

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez January 26, 2010 | 11:38 a.m.

@Andrew maybe you should learn there is more than one source of information to choose from. By your post you have a serious axe to grind against those who are living on the fringe of the national poverty level. A lot of middle class families are only one or two checks away from living on the streets themselves thanks to corporate welfare fraud. Don't you think your axe might be better ground against those who defraud all of us due to corporate welfare that has been eating our country for far longer and has brought us to this economic issue we all face now? A few pennies of your (and mine) phone bill go to help out the poor is the way the Fact Check article reads and you are going to seriously complain about those pennies added to millions of other pennies to make this program work? If you went and read the site and the article instead of selective reading either you would see there is a process to go through. It is not an instant deal and there is the potential to be denied. Picking on some program that actually helps citizens with a realistic need is just lame.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking January 26, 2010 | 12:57 p.m.

Carlos Sanchez wrote:

"A lot of middle class families are only one or two checks away from living on the streets themselves thanks to corporate welfare fraud."

What's "corporate welfare fraud"? A lot of middle class families are one or two checks away from homelessness because they haven't planned for a rainy day, or are otherwise living beyond their income. Our current economic situation is the result of too much debt, combined with high energy prices (in 2008). "Corporate welfare fraud", whatever that is, has very little to do with it.


(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez January 26, 2010 | 3:03 p.m.

@Mark to answer your question being you now want to take this topic away from it's original meaning. Corporate Welfare Fraud can be defined as when those Corporations that the American Tax Payers have been bailing out,took that Bail Out Money and instead of doing as they were supposed to and said they would squandered that money on luxury vacations,retreats and more Golden Parachutes ie: A.I.G. as an example. That Mark is Fraud but are they being prosecuted for that Felony Offense I ask you? How many Billions Mark did the American Tax Payer put out of pocket just because Corporate America screwed itself out of greed and those same companies have not paid back yet? A Bail Out is just the same as Welfare no matter how you look at it and to misrepresent your need is still a form of Fraud last I checked my dictionary. That Mark is a prime example of what Andrew and others with like opinions should really be upset about instead of pissing over some citizen living at or below poverty level being able to get a free cell phone for emergency purposes.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 26, 2010 | 3:53 p.m.

Maybe you should be upset at the government for offering (and in some cases, forcing on companies that did not ask for it) these funds? If the government hadn't made the money available, the companies could not have squandered it as you claim.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 26, 2010 | 8:48 p.m.

What are you ranting about? CenturyLink can't block cell phones and they have physical plant competitors, right here in Columbia.

(Report Comment)
Johnny Langer November 22, 2010 | 5:57 p.m.

This is a darn good article that tells you how to get the free call phone.

(Report Comment)
Mitchell Thompson November 18, 2011 | 3:57 p.m.

Free Cell Phones are so passe. Here comes free high-speed internet for the poor. Don't believe me? Read for yourself:

...from the supposed authority of the free government phones program.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor November 18, 2011 | 4:42 p.m.

I will agree that having a cell phone is more of a need than a luxery these days. That is, IF, you are looking for a job etc...

To call it a right is just another example of the entitlement crisis of culture that is bringing this nation down.

(I wanted a cell phone for several years before I bought one... hmmmmm...)

(Report Comment)

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